Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the United States for both men and women. But stars of movies, television, music, and comedy are lending their power to the organizations that are determined to change that statistic.
One of the biggest names in the fight is award-winning actor Laura Dern, who serves as adviser to the board of directors of the American Lung Association.
Dern was partly inspired into action by the effects that the disease had on her grandfather, who died when she was only 6.
That personal connection drew her to the ALA, she says. “I am proud to partner with the Lung Association because they work hard to save lives through investments in education, advocacy and research.”
The association is grateful for the assist.
“Laura Dern is a beloved, accomplished actress who has an authentic connection to our mission to save lives and improve lung health,” says Julia Fitzgerald, the ALA’s chief marketing officer.
“Thanks to her personal experience and powerful ability to captivate millions of people, we can help get our messaging out to more Americans who are afflicted by lung disease.”
Dern’s main vehicle has been Lung Force, an ALA-sponsored group founded in 2014 to raise awareness about lung cancer while bringing together women across the country whose lives are touched by the disease.
She draws inspiration from actor Valerie Harper, a close friend who was part of Lung Force until her death from lung disease in 2019.
“A few years ago, I had the privilege of playing author Cheryl Strayed’s mom in the film adaptation of Cheryl’s book Wild. Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi, also died of lung cancer,” Dern says.
“In doing research for the role, I discovered that lung cancer is diagnosed in one woman every five minutes. I want to ensure that no one ever has to lose a loved one from lung disease. That’s when I started working with the American Lung Association.” Dern received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the portrayal. She wore a turquoise dress, in honor of Lung Force, at the ceremony.
Dern has become even more determined during the COVID-19 pandemic, as she feels an even greater sense of urgency for people dealing with lung cancer.
“For years before COVID-19 hit, I worked to raise awareness surrounding lung cancer, which does not receive the attention it deserves,” she says. “COVID-19 has not only taken many American lives, but also poses a major health threat to the more than 36 million Americans living with a lung disease. I am now even more passionate about the American Lung Association’s mission.”
Other Stars Lending Their Support
Dern is joined in her efforts against lung cancer by stars like:
Ricky Gervais. The English actor/comedian lost his mother to lung cancer in 2001 and has been leading efforts against the disease ever since, primarily through the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. He’s also used his award-winning show After Life as a platform. In the dark comedy, Gervais plays a man who must carry on after his wife dies of cancer.
Early detection is a big issue for Gervais.
"My mother's death was very sudden,” he told the Belfast Telegraph, “and you can't help wondering if things would have been different had it been spotted earlier. So even though it's winter and even if you're a smoker, if you've had a bad cough for two to three weeks and you can't get rid of it, make an appointment with your [doctor] today."
Kellie Pickler. The country music star began using her voice against lung cancer after the death of her grandmother, “the woman who raised me,” in 2002. “The generation of women she grew up with didn't know the long-term effects smoking would cause,” Pickler told ABC News.
Pickler, who joined Lung Force in 2015 and took part in a panel for National Women’s Lung Health Week in 2016 with Harper and Dern, feels it’s important for people with lung cancer to know that they’re not alone.
“It broke my heart to learn that there are so many people -- men and women -- that are battling lung cancer on their own because they are afraid of what society or the people around them are going to say or do or how they’re going to be treated,” she told Women’s Health. “I think it’s a beautiful thing when women come together and use our voices to make a difference and help save lives.”
Her work with the ALA also taught Pickler about the dangers for nonsmokers. “I was shocked to find out you don't even have to be a smoker to be diagnosed with lung cancer,” she said.
“I love what Valerie said: ‘If you have lungs, you’re at risk.’”
Christy Turlington Burns. The supermodel lent her name to the fight after her father was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late 1990s, leading her to a healthier lifestyle and a commitment to advocacy. Then, she was diagnosed with early-stage emphysema in 2002.
“I quit smoking when I was 25,” Turlington Burns told People. “My dad, he had been a lifelong smoker. When he was diagnosed ... I got a feeling of what it could be like to do more meaningful work and to advocate for health and wellness.”
That meaningful work includes a powerful anti-smoking PSA (Celebrities Against Smoking Christy Turlington PSA). She also dedicated a number of years to working with Lung Force.