Nikki Steinman was just 37 years old when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Though she had childhood asthma, she lived a very healthy lifestyle and there was no history of cancer in the family, so the diagnosis came as quite a shock. Considering all these factors, her family encouraged her to get a second opinion.
The doctor not only confirmed the diagnosis but explained that it was a very rare form of lung cancer called carcinosarcoma. This meant Nikki would probably need surgery, but the surgeon recommended she start chemotherapy immediately in hopes of shrinking the large mass in her lung. After four rounds of chemo and a surgery, Nikki’s joints started to ache. An MRI confirmed the cancer was now stage four and had spread throughout her body. For three weeks, the doctors tried to treat the cancer with radiation. Unfortunately, in January 2013, just seven months after her initial diagnosis, Nikki passed away.
"You think about losing your parents, but I never thought about losing her, she was my younger sister. So, I never even fathomed that I'd lose her, especially this way,” her sister Wendy said.
A few months after Nikki’s death, Wendy’s friend reached out to her about the Fight For Air Climb in Oklahoma City. She explained that the American Lung Association hosts this event and others across the U.S. to raise money and awareness for lung cancer and lung disease. After attending, Wendy was overwhelmed by the stories she heard and the people she met. So, she decided to create a team in Nikki’s honor to participate in the event annually.
In 2014, twenty of Nikki’s closest friends and family came together to climb in her memory. That year, they raised over $10,000 dollars to support education, advocacy and cancer research. Since then, Team Nikki has become one of the largest and most motivated Fight For Air Climb teams in Oklahoma, raising over $174,000 dollars in the last 10 years they have participated.
“I am part of a lung cancer support group and I have seen how the money we have raised has made an impact. Things are so different now. People with stage four lung cancer can continue to live their lives thanks to advancements in technology, like immunotherapy, and other things that were just not available for Nikki in 2012,” Wendy said.
After the success of that first Climb, Wendy decided she wanted to be further involved with the Lung Association, so she joined the local board. This year, she was the LUNG FORCE Hero who represented Oklahoma at Advocacy Day. She shared Nikki’s story with representatives and senators in hope of promoting lung health and eliminating the stigma that is frequently attached to a lung cancer diagnosis. “We know that there are so many young, healthy individuals who are being diagnosed with lung cancer. It does not discriminate,” she said.
“This year at Advocacy Day there were more lung cancer patients than in previous years and I think that is because, thanks to research and new medications, people are living longer, even with stage four cancer,” Wendy proclaimed. Wendy continues to share her sister’s story and encourages others to do the same.
Blog last updated: January 17, 2023