JACKSONVILLE, FL | August 24, 2021
This fall, Jacksonville resident Bekah Brighton will walk three miles carrying a 40-foot chain made of her father’s hospital bracelets, which represent his two-and-a-half-year battle with lung cancer. She hopes to showcase dangers of smoking and raise awareness for lung cancer.
In 2017, Bekah’s father, Paul Friedman, went to the urgent care for pneumonia. The doctors were immediately concerned, so they sent him to the emergency room. The next day, they found a mass on his lungs. Over the next week, he went through several tests to determine what was causing his health issues. Then the family got the news, it was stage IV lung cancer.
“When we found out the staging, I googled it and that is when I grieved the most,” said Bekah. “When I looked up stage IV lung cancer, the odds were not great. I am a huge daddy’s girl, so to see the statistics was devastating. Then a family member told me, ‘Why can’t he be the exception?’ So every time something went wrong, I thought ‘Why can’t he be the exception?’”
There was a delay before Paul began immunotherapy, and by the time he finished his first round of treatment, the cancer had doubled in size and spread to his brain. He had a Gamma Knife surgery to target the metastatic tumors. The doctors then switched him to an aggressive form of chemotherapy, which worked well for the next year. When his cancer stopped responding to treatment, his medical team tried different combinations of chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs, but after two years of fairly good quality of life, his health began to decline rapidly. The family worked to get him enrolled in clinical trials, but he didn’t qualify.
This was in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was challenging for Bekah to visit her father. She had just had a baby boy, Asher, who she was determined to introduce to her father before he passed. The family worked hard to create a safe environment for the two to meet.
“When we brought Asher in, it didn’t seem like my father was aware until I touched him. I had to take his hand and physically put it on the car seat. I reached his hand in and put it on Asher’s feet and when he realized that it was his grandson, he started tickling his feet,” said Bekah. “Then he just lifted up, looked up and leaned into the car seat. I’m so happy that he got to meet Asher, but it was so bittersweet. He mustered up the strength for one look at him and in it, I could see written on his face all the milestones he’d miss. His first laugh, his first steps, first words, first birthday. We just should’ve had more… More time. More moments.”
“That was July 28 when he met Asher. The next day, he couldn’t talk anymore,” she added.
On July 29, Paul passed away.
“At the start of my dad’s journey, he decided to keep all of his hospital bracelets and linked them together. He kept them hung on the bathroom door to remind him that he was fighting to live doctor visit by procedure visit. Now the chain is almost 40 feet long,” said Bekah. “I think it makes a powerful statement.”
Bekah began looking for an organization to get involved with where she could share her father’s story and the powerful visual of the hospital bracelets, and found the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE Run/Walk. This fall, she will walk with the bracelets in memory of her father to raise awareness about lung cancer and the dangers of tobacco use.
“He wanted it to be more of a victory chain, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I think that it says something about his journey and his fight,” she said.
The American Lung Association in Florida’s LUNG FORCE Run/Walk will take place at the Haskell Company this fall. For the event, participants will run or walk a 5K along the St. Johns River to help raise awareness and funds to end lung cancer and lung disease. For more information and to register, visit LUNGFORCE.org/Jacksonville.
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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