As a kid growing up in the early 2000s, there are certain TV commercials that are imprinted in my memory. One in particular painted a dramatic picture of how smoking leads to emphysema, lung cancer, breathing problems and much more. It always centered on an adult with an oxygen tank who struggled to breathe and could hardly speak. Those commercials were terrifying to me, but they impacted my mom in a different way. She appreciated them as an educational resource that showed just how harmful smoking is and how it could cause respiratory disease. For years, those haunting ads were the only education I received on lung disease and lung cancer. Little did we know that in about 15 years, my mom would be diagnosed with one of those dreaded respiratory diseases.

In August 2019, my mom was told she had stage four lung cancer and my world was changed forever. On that dreadful day, those commercials were running through my mind; I imagined my mom with an oxygen tank hardly able to breathe. I had so many questions: Who can get lung cancer? Why did she get it? What’s the survival rate? Everything felt very uncertain, but there were two things we knew for sure – my mom would bravely fight the hardest battle of her life and we would fight alongside her.

Emily and her mother

Despite her strength and determination, in January 2020, my mom passed away. She was my biggest supporter, mentor and teacher, and I will always be eternally grateful to have had her as my mom. One of the biggest lessons I learned from her was that there is always an opportunity to be a leader and a teacher and that I should seize those opportunities whenever I have the chance. This is how I continue to honor her memory.

In the early days of her diagnosis, my mom said that she wanted to spread the word in any way she could about what lung cancer is and how it can affect anyone. She wanted to humanize it, destigmatize it and show the true impact it has on the lives of people all over the U.S.

When she passed, instead of fixating on the immense sadness of the loss, my sister and I began to think about what we could do to keep her memory alive. First, we considered creating a scholarship in her name, but we weren’t sure what the correct cause would be. Then, we thought about purchasing a bench on the boardwalk she loved or a park she spent many hours at, but that felt too small and insignificant.

Eventually, we decided to start by participating in a 2020 LUNG FORCE Walk in her honor. We hoped that this would be a great way to not only remember her, but educate others about lung disease and lung cancer. A few short days after her passing, I created my team, Jaynee’s Angels, and invited all our friends and family to join. In just one day, we raised over $1,000 in her honor, and I felt proud that we were continuing her legacy. What could be better than raising money to fund lung cancer research, offer resources and connect patients, survivors and caretakers alike to this cause?

I could have never imagined that simply creating a LUNG FORCE Walk team would lead me to other incredible opportunities. Since that initial launch in February 2020, my sister and I have co-captained our 2020 and 2021 Jaynee’s Angels team and raised over $18,000 over the course of two years. We even ranked 25th in fundraising nationally for the 2020 walk and have since served on the LUNG FORCE Walk Committee. I have also recently joined the Lung Cancer Caregiver Advisory Group. We do all of this in my mom’s name, in the hopes of achieving a brighter and healthier future for everyone.

I think about my mom day in and day out, but I have learned to take the heartbreak from her loss and put it toward something impactful, as she wanted. My hope is to one day see a world free of lung cancer so that no one else has to suffer the way my mom did, and no other caregivers, family and friends have to lose their loved one to this dreadful disease. Making a difference, breaking the stigma surrounding lung cancer, and sharing my story is the best possible way to honor my mom.

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