Woman with Stage IV Lung Cancer Rallies Team for Lung Association’s Cycle the Seacoast

Deb Smith to volunteer as family and friends cycle to support her cause

(April 29, 2013)

On Sunday, May 5, the American Lung Association will celebrate the 4th annual Cycle the Seacoast ride along the Portsmouth seacoast. The goal for the 2013 Trek is to raise $130,000 to support the American Lung Association’s mission to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through research, education, and advocacy.

Deb Smith was just 58 when she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in August 2011; she had never smoked a day in her life. “My parents both smoked, and I was exposed to secondhand smoke for the first 18 years of my life,” said Smith. Deb’s mother eventually passed away from emphysema, a type of lung disease that makes it hard to breathe, because your body is not receiving enough oxygen.

Since her diagnosis, Deb has been involved in a clinical trial at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Doctors recently changed her medication when she began to grow resistant to a drug she was taking. The new drug she is now taking has made Deb a little more fatigued than the last, so she has cut down to working three days per week as a special education teacher at Seabrook Elementary School.

Deb Smith family
Deb with her brothers and sisters, Hampton Beach, Summer 2010; Top row (from L to R:) Katie Smith, Chris Smith, Mike Smith, Bob Smith, Elizabeth McGovern; Bottom row: Nora Parell, Deb Smith

While lung cancer is not the most common cancer diagnosis, it is the leading cancer killer among both men and women, responsible for 160,000 American deaths each year. Often, lung cancer remains undiagnosed until it has progressed into the later stages, like in Deb’s case. When Deb presented symptoms, such as persistent cough and shortness of breath, her doctor did not order a CT scan, as she was a nonsmoker. “I never expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer,” said Deb. Her hope is that one day the stigma that comes with lung cancer will be removed.

Lung cancer claims more lives each year than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, yet each of these cancers receives proportionately more research funding than lung cancer. The American Lung Association is working day in and day out to advocate for increased research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Lung Association’s Nationwide Research Program grants funding to researchers who are committed to finding better treatments and cures for lung diseases like lung cancer, COPD and asthma. To learn more about the American Lung Association’s ongoing research, visit www.Lung.org/research. New screening guidelines for lung cancer are also available on the American Lung Association’s website.

One day while out shopping, Deb came across a flyer for the American Lung Association of the Northeast’s Cycle the Seacoast. As a lung cancer patient, she was immediately drawn to the cause. What’s more is that Deb saw this as an opportunity to involve her large network of loved ones, many of whom are avid cyclists. On May 5, “Deb’s Team, “consisting of Deb’s sisters, Team Captain Elizabeth McGovern and Nora Parell, Deb’s brothers, Bob Smith and Chris Smith, Deb’s niece, Sara Smith, and Deb’s two friends, Gail Calkins and Chuck Collins, will travel the 25-mile route along the Portsmouth seacoast. Deb, her sister, and several friends will be on hand to greet the team as Trek volunteers.

Deb’s Team originally set a team fundraising goal for themselves of $1,000. To date, the team, including Deb and the other volunteers, has raised more than $5,600, making them the highest fundraising team to date. To support “Deb’s Team” with a donation, visit Biketreknewengland.org.

“Deb is doing a real service by talking candidly about the effect a lung cancer diagnosis can have on not only the patient, but also their loved ones,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Over 370,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, many of them are people who never smoked or who quit years ago. The American Lung Association is committed to reducing lung cancer’s stigma and believes that no one deserves lung cancer.”

Deb is looking forward to May 5 as not only as a way to support her cause, but an excuse to gather with family, friends and loved ones who she does not often see because they live in different areas of the country. She is also looking forward to the next chapter in her life - retirement in June of this year. 

Cycle the Seacoast offers three different route options - 25, 50 and 100 miles - for cyclists of any level. Registration is just $35. The required fundraising minimum is $250 per person. More information is available at Biketreknewengland.org

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