My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell adenocarcinoma of the lung in November 2016. Though she tried to continue working as an OBGYN, a year after her diagnosis she was forced to retire to focus on her intensive and demanding treatment. But shuffling back and forth to doctors' offices was not a "job" nor a meaningful-enough day-to-day existence for my mother, who loved medicine and ached to help others.

She decided, first and foremost, to learn all she could about her diagnosis, something that also interested me. We both quickly became well-versed in lung cancer, its various mutations, causes, and treatments, both currently available and in the works. One of the rather frustrating aspects of the lung cancer diagnosis my mother received was the stigmas that came with it. My mother was not high risk, nor was she a smoker. This stigma associated with lung cancer became one of the prime motivations for my mother to begin her lung cancer advocacy and education and subsequently led me to follow in her footsteps.

Her first bid in advocacy was a local fundraiser she created and ran in our county during November of 2019 (Lung Cancer Awareness Month). In her efforts she raised money for multiple lung cancer organizations and gave out free radon testing kits. Shortly thereafter, she began working alongside the American Lung Association, taking part in their various efforts to bring awareness to the disease through online/social media advocacy and the yearly LUNG FORCE Walk. I, too, became involved in fundraising and social media advocacy efforts around this time. In September 2020, my brother and I helped my mother host a virtual LUNG FORCE Walk in our neighborhood which was attended by many family members and friends, as well as those in our greater community.

My mother passed away on September 22, 2021, just a week before the annual Walk that she had been fundraising for and planning to attend. Despite her absence, I felt compelled to take part in the walk because I knew how much the event meant to her, and since then, I have been closely involved with the American Lung Association. I am now a LUNG FORCE Hero for the state of New Jersey and attended a virtual 2022 LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day in April where LUNG FORCE Heroes from across the nation met with Members of Congress to urge their support for quality healthcare more affordable for millions of Americans, funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rebuild healthier communities and protect our nation’s health from disease, including lung cancer; and National Institutes of Health so there can be better early detection, treatments and cures for lung cancer.

I intend to continue to support the Lung Association in any way that I can. Lung cancer advocacy has been a fulfilling experience for me during my healing journey as I work through my grief. It has given me an avenue to continue my mother’s efforts and honor her legacy. It is my sincerest hope that by bringing awareness to lung cancer, and aiding and funding research for its treatment, more patients can live the long lives they deserve to live, the life my mother was robbed of.

What a Difference a LUNG FORCE Walk Makes

Often, patients and their families feel alone in the fight against cancer. Not everyone can really “relate” to the diagnosis and the common struggles that come with it. Doctors, patients and immediate family members are the only ones who know what cancer looks and feels like on a day-to-day basis. Thus, the cancer journey can become a very lonely and ambivalent one, regardless of the outside support one receives from their greater community.

It was only after I got involved with the LUNG FORCE Walk that I met and interacted with people who understood all the things—both physically and mentally—I was going through as a caregiver and daughter of a lung cancer patient. Likewise, my mother was able to meet other patients and keep in touch with them throughout her journey. The walk provided my mother, myself, and my family with a network of people we could relate to. In addition, one of the best things about this network of LUNG FORCE walkers is that we all live within driving distance. So, we can talk openly and offer advice on hospitals, treatment centers, and other random locations within New Jersey.

Another aspect I really love about the walk that I didn’t fully appreciate until I lost my mom is the space where teams can put photos of their departed loved ones who lost the fight to lung cancer. This past year, there were photos of my mom surrounded by teal paper butterflies on an easel that looked over the park where we were walking. It’s a small gesture, but it meant so much to me.

For these reasons and many more, I encourage others to participate in a Lung Force walk. It’s a fun day of walking with friends and family, decked out in Lung Association turquoise shirts, hoping for a brighter tomorrow for lung cancer patients. You’ll hear the stories and reasons for walking from other participants. You’ll be outside breathing the fresh air. You’ll be promoting lung cancer advocacy and fundraising and lifted by the spirit of charity. There is a network of lung cancer patients and their families waiting to meet you, support you, and become friends with you and your family.

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