Nothing can prepare a man and his family for a lung cancer diagnosis. I remember the night five years ago when my mom called me with bad news. My uncle, Keith, had just been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.
Keith is my dad’s youngest brother, who is always making everyone laugh and giving the best bear hugs. He is a husband, father, and small business owner who coached all of his kids’ youth sports teams and never missed a game. My grandfather passed away from paranasal sinus cancer when Keith was seven, so he grew up without really knowing his dad. Because of that experience, Keith is determined to never leave an empty seat at an important family event.
The night we found out that our beloved uncle had lung cancer, my sister and I cried together and hugged each other for a long time. We started asking questions like, “How did this happen?” and “Why him?” and “What does this mean?” Then we realized there was only one question we could actually attempt to answer: “What do we do about it?”
My mom was at our local farmer’s market when by chance, she met Cindy, the founder of Breathe Deep Baltimore, one of LUNGevity’s grassroots events. Cindy started the Breathe Deep Baltimore walk in 2008 in loving memory of her mom. The event was taking place in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Monica Barlow, the Orioles’ former PR Director who had the same ALK-positive lung cancer as my uncle, was the keynote speaker. We had to be there.
Our first Breathe Deep walk as a family was hopeful and somber as we celebrated survivors and honored those we’ve lost to this terrible disease. Monica spoke about the groundbreaking research that LUNGevity was funding and how important it is to be strong advocates. That was the first time that my uncle met other lung cancer survivors. Until that day, he didn’t have anyone to talk to who understood what he was going through.
Breathe Deep Baltimore felt like my family was part of an important movement, and that we were accomplishing something together that was much bigger than what any one of us could have done alone. I had just finished grad school and all of my work and volunteer experience was in marketing and event management, including positions with Susan G. Komen and American Cancer Society. I decided to join the Breathe Deep Baltimore committee and help plan future events. I had no idea then that this group of wonderful people would become like family to me.
This September marked my uncle’s fifth year as a survivor, a milestone we celebrated as a family. His first year of treatment included chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries. He took Xalkori, a targeted therapy drug, for three and a half years and recently switched to Alectinib, both with very positive results. This September also marked my fifth year on the Breathe Deep Baltimore committee and my second year as a LUNGevity employee.
Working for LUNGevity, first as a volunteer and now as a full-time staff member, is incredibly rewarding. As the Digital Community Manager, I interact all day on social media and our online communities with patients, survivors, caregivers, and advocates. I am incredibly thankful for the people who are working to create a world where people with lung cancer live longer and better because of early detection and more effective treatments. I am grateful for the opportunity to know and work with these people and to help support others whose lives have been affected by lung cancer. By working together, I am determined and optimistic that we can stop lung cancer. There are always an infinite number of reasons to be hopeful.