In January 2019, Cristina’s life changed forever when her husband Rob, a healthy 42-year-old, was suddenly and unexpectedly diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer. He had been complaining of pain in his left side, which he thought was probably just a muscle pull from softball, golf or one of his other physical activities. But when he went to visit his doctor and they ordered an X-ray, they found fluid in his lungs.

From there, things moved rapidly. The doctors suggested chemo and immunotherapy, which worked for a while, but then he developed pneumonitis from the treatment, and they had to cut back. The cancer continued to spread, first to his abdomen and eventually to his brain. “We had a lot of questions about Rob’s cancer. He was healthy,” Cristina remembers. “He had battled cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, before as a teenager, but he wasn’t at high risk for lung cancer, so we were completely shocked with his diagnosis. So, when he got diagnosed, we started looking for a lot of answers and a friend suggested the American Lung Association website. It was helpful by providing information on what his lung cancer diagnosis was, the stages were and some of the treatments that he could get.”

Unfortunately, just a year after his diagnosis, Rob passed away. “His cancer got so aggressive that at one point the doctor said there's nothing else to do. I share his story because I think if these stories are told more often, that may encourage people to donate to fund research so that, in the future, no one has to be told that [there are no more treatment options]. That is my greatest wish,” said Cristina.

Raising Funds to Fight Lung Cancer

After his initial diagnosis, a former events director for the American Lung Association in Delaware, Lynda Neef, suggested Cristina and Rob get involved in LUNG FORCE. “She told us there was a walk in October, and asked Rob if he would be a featured LUNG FORCE Hero. He agreed and we have been involved ever since.”

In addition to the LUNG FORCE team, his work softball team, which Rob had played on, created a patch with the saying “Warriors Never Quit” and a jersey with Rob’s face on it to honor him. This slogan was also used for the annual LUNG FORCE Walk in Delaware team name as well. When Rob passed, his wife and friends started a golf tournament in his memory which serves as the main fundraiser for his LUNG FORCE Walk team.

“When I lost Rob, it made me realize that we have to continue to give back. I don't have a lot of time, but I can fundraise, I can give back financially to help the Lung Association. In 2021, I was the top fundraiser in the country. Over the three years that I've been raising money for the American Lung Association, I've raised over $85,000. Most of it comes from the golf tournament where we get sponsors and do raffles and all kinds of stuff,” Cristina said.

Cristina has also found a very active community in the Delaware LUNG FORCE group. They, led by her friend Lynda, offered support during Rob's treatment and continue to offer it after his death. “I just always felt like somebody was there when I need it,” she said.

Getting Involved in Advocacy Day

Aside from fundraising, Cristina’s involvement with the Lung Association has given her a platform to meet with her Members of Congress about the urgent need to protect quality, affordable healthcare; support funding for the Centers for Disease Control to rebuild healthier communities and protect our nation’s health from disease, including lung cancer; and to support funding for the National Institutes of Health so there can be better early detection, treatments and cures for lung cancer.

The Lung Association shares materials on important topics in lung health with Cristina and other advocates that can be used to open conversations with Congressional staffers. “I've met with a number of different people in Delaware Senators Chris Coons, Tom Carper and Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester’s offices to talk about different bills that are being passed,” she said.

“Since I am an assistant principal, last year the Lung Association asked me to speak about school bus emissions and clean air, and the cleaner, green buses. We talked about children who used buses and how they are being exposed to these harmful fumes.”

With 2022 being her second Advocacy Day, Cristina believes she has built relationships with her members of Congress and, in that way, is able to have a greater rapport about the important topics. “What I've learned from my involvement is that people aren’t always aware that there is this support available and that others are fighting every day to make changes in regard to lung health,” she said.

“Someone once asked me why I keep doing all this, and I said because someone has to fight for it. I know my husband would have fought for me if the coin was flipped.”

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