Nancy O’Neil is a 63-year-old wife, mother, grandmother and lung cancer survivor.  A former smoker, she was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer in 2015. But she was determined to fight, and today she is cancer free, enjoying life with her husband and dog, exercising regularly, volunteering at a local animal shelter and anxiously looking forward to traveling and seeing her children when COVID-19 is no longer a threat. 

But her work with the American Lung Association goes all the way back to 2006. “My mother died of complication relating to pulmonary fibrosis; I believe it was right around that time when I first donated to the American Lung Association,” she said. “I found it hard to understand why she was diagnosed with this devastating lung disease. In my pursuit of trying to find answers, I came across information about the American Lung Association and the work that they were doing for lung health.”

Then after her own lung disease diagnosis in 2015, Nancy became even more committed to the cause and began donating regularly. “As a part of my treatment for lung cancer, I had to undergo daily radiation. One day, while lying on the table during treatment, with the machines whirring all around me, I decided right then and there that if, by the grace of God, I lived through this, I would donate a portion of the money that I used to spend on cigarettes to an organization that was working to eliminate lung cancer,” she recalled. “The American Lung Association drew my attention again based on the impact they have made, and continue to make, in fighting lung cancer.”

In addition to her own treatment, she has seen many others struggle from lung disease. “The final step in my treatment for lung cancer was a long day of surgery where I had a lobectomy, adrenalectomy and lymphadenectomy. The night I came out of surgery, I was placed in a room with a woman with end stage emphysema. Her struggle to breath just to stay alive left a lasting impression on me. I have since learned more about the lungs, how they work or why they aren’t working, and how to improve my lung health. The American Lung Association has a stated objective to defeat lung cancer and lung disease, and I would very much like to see that happen in my lifetime,” she elaborated. 

She specifically likes that she can direct her donation to Lung Association mission priorities that are important to her. “Specifically, Serena Arrabito, the National Director of Donor Relations, helped me to find just the right program, grant or research opportunity that supports my donor objective,” she says. 

Nancy’s connection to the mission is what strengthens her resolve to tell her story and continue to donate. “Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer for both men and women, and it gets the least attention in the U.S. I will never be able to undo the damage that lung cancer and smoking did to me and my family, but I know that the contributions that I make to the American Lung Association will help prevent future generations from contracting this deadly disease as well as improve treatment and outcomes for current lung cancer patients,” she said. 

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