Five years after losing her mother to lung cancer, LUNG FORCE Hero Heather P. shares her story with the hope of raising awareness, encouraging others and, someday, finding a cure.
Losing my mother to lung cancer has been the most difficult thing I've ever experienced in my life. I was born with a cleft lip and palate, and my mom was there for me and took care of me after every surgery. Being an only child brought us even closer. She was my best friend, and I miss her every day, even now, five years later.
Last year, on May 22, 2016, which would have been her 56th birthday, I wanted to do something to commemorate her. I ended up going for ice cream by myself and sang happy birthday with tears in my eyes. Afterwards, I went to a CVS Pharmacy and somehow ended up in the card aisle, reading every "Happy Birthday, Mom" card there was. I must have been in that aisle crying and reading cards for at least 20 minutes. I wanted to find a card that expressed everything I was feeling, but there isn't a card to say happy birthday to someone who is gone. With tears in my eyes, I gathered enough strength to grab a few items and waited in line at the check-out, sniffling. I finally got up to the cashier, where I went to pay with my debit card. After I swiped my card, it asked me if I'd like to donate one or three dollars to LUNG FORCE, a campaign led by the American Lung Association.
Shocked and touched, I instantly donated three dollars to save lives through prevention, early detection, and new treatment options. So, I started smiling through my tears, as I made my way to my car and sat for thirty minutes in the parking lot looking up everything I could on LUNG FORCE. I was meant to be there that day, though it was painful, I learned about something that I would like to be involved in and support!
I've been interested in tobacco control policies and research since I was doing my master's degree at the University of Florida. My thesis project evaluated whether smokefree signage placed in public parks actually reduced smoking behaviors, even though it was not formally enforced and wasn't a city ordinance. Once my mom passed, I realized that I was in the right field and that I wanted tobacco education to become my life. I don't want anyone to lose their mother so suddenly, the way that I did. Now I'm a PhD student approaching candidacy at the University of Maryland, School of Public Health. Within the Department of Behavioral and Community Health, I am working to specialize in tobacco control and cancer prevention, specifically lung cancer. My dissertation focuses on an innovative method to increase lung cancer screenings among high-risk populations. Additionally, I am currently a Fellow at Veteran Affairs and I am the lead person on the lung cancer arm of our new cancer initiative. Following the lead from former Vice President Biden on the Moonshot initiative, the VA is working to tackle lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer by creating strategic partnerships with key external players in the field.
Lung cancer has influenced my life in several ways. It makes me miss my mom each day, especially when I'm having a difficult one. It has made me a stronger person and has influenced me to live my life to the fullest and pursue and accomplish all of my dreams. It has made me into a passionate researcher, teacher, worker and friend that will never give up on helping people to quit smoking, get screened for lung cancer, and eventually, find a cure.
LUNG FORCE Heroes inspire, encourage and empower us to raise our voices for lung health. If lung cancer has touched your life, you can share your story to give others courage, and to help us raise awareness about the disease and the importance of early detection. Just like Heather P., you can also support LUNG FORCE through May 27th by making a donation of $1, $3 or more at any CVS Pharmacy location or online at Lung.org/CVS.