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Your Voice Matters: Changing the Lung Cancer Conversation

Mar 21st, 2014

Five years ago I held my best friend’s hand and watched her take her last breath. For the two-and-a-half years leading up to that moment, I watched Elyse fight a truly impossible battle against lung cancer. What I saw, shared, and felt shook me to my core. When Elyse’s fight ended at age 45, mine had just begun.

I recently read a blog that quoted Christopher Robin saying goodbye to his beloved friend, Winnie the Pooh: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” The author said to imagine your lost loved one whispering this in your ear and in your heart as you move through life without him or her.

I have tried to turn my loss and sadness into something positive, and that has helped me do things I had never imagined I could. I am a passionate lung cancer advocate. Ask me about lung cancer, and I will tell you about Elyse and my amazing friend Jill, who was diagnosed five years ago at the age of 39 and also lost both of her parents, two grandparents, and her aunt to lung cancer. It’s hard not to care once you know the facts.

Lung Cancer Facts

Lung cancer has wrongly been shadowed with a stigma of blame. People think this is smoker’s disease. Fact: Over 60 percent of those diagnosed have never smoked or are former smokers who quit long ago. And so what if someone did, or does, smoke. We ALL have made unhealthy choices. As with any devastating diagnosis, there should be no judgment, only compassion and support. No one deserves lung cancer.

Fact: With only a 17 percent, five-year survival rate, lung cancer doesn’t have an army of survivors or advocates telling their stories. There really aren’t many that can because patients are busy fighting for their lives, and so many who have lost loved ones are exhausted and defeated.

Fact: Lung cancer takes more lives every year than the next top three cancers combined. But it’s the low man on the cancer totem pole when it comes to research funding. My LUNGevity friends and I strive every day to turn this around by raising awareness, growing our supporters and advocates, and raising funds for desperately needed research. When you’re the underdog, small strides can make a BIG difference. We don’t take any gesture of support, big or small, lightly. Every voice and effort is extremely valuable and empowering.

Fact: One in 14 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime.  It is destined to touch us all.

What We Can Do

As I continue Elyse’s fight as a board member of LUNGevity and Event Co-Coordinator of Breathe Deep North Shore, I am in awe of the generosity of friends, strangers, co-workers, businesses of all sizes, and entire communities that support our efforts. People open their hearts, their minds, and often their wallets to support this cause, a cause they may not have understood before. Every conversation is an opportunity, and every display of support is a gift.

I am especially grateful to the Chicago AMLI FAMLI who has made my cause their cause. In the spirit of the FAMLI Volunteer Program, and their efforts all over the country to give back to the communities in which we live and work, AMLI’s Chicago corporate office and Chicago-area communities are spending three months fundraising for LUNGevity and Breathe Deep North Shore. They are raising awareness and funds for research.  They are helping to change the conversation from “Did he/she smoke?” to “How can I help?” They are helping make hope happen!

This is very personal for me. I am driven by Elyse’s memory and sweet spirit, Jill’s courage and dedication as an advocate, and the need to help the 226,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer this year.

In recent years, there have been great strides in research and there is much to be hopeful about, yet there is still much more work to be done.

YOU can help! Join me and the FAMLI Volunteer Team at Breathe Deep North Shore on April 27 at Deerfield High School. You can also support our team with a donation, or tell a friend or stranger the facts about lung cancer. Your voice matters and can truly make a difference in changing the course of this disease.

A version of this first appeared on The LUNGevity Blog.

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