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15% Chance of Survival Becomes 100% Drive for Cancer Cure

When Jamie Young went to the doctor with a nagging cough about five years ago, the last thing she thought she'd be told was she had lung cancer.

But after receiving that shocking news there was more: Because she had infected lymph nodes on both sides of her lung, she would not be a candidate for surgery.

"Once it crosses over to the opposite side of the tumor, it's characterized as locally advanced and inoperable," she said. "Surgery would not prolong my life any."

Knowing that, Young and her doctors moved forward with an aggressive treatment regimen they hoped would prolong her life. With research telling her there was about a 15 percent survival rate, Young's outlook on life was not good.

"Right after diagnosis I went into a pretty deep depression for about a month, thinking that life was over as I had ever known it and I probably would not live to see my son start school," Young said. "I knew with the prognosis with my stage of disease, it was like 15 percent survival for five years. And so at that point I was really scared about that."

Young stayed depressed for about a month before she decided she would be among the 15 percent who do survive. To do that, the former middle school band director knew she needed to get involved in things that would help her look toward the future.

At the same time, she wanted to be involved in something that would allow her to give back to the communities that she felt had helped her:the music community and the cancer treatment community.

Therein was born Playing for a Cure.

Finding a cure through music

Playing for a Cure is a middle school and high school band competition. Students can choose to participate in the full band, solo or ensemble categories. The money that is raised from the event goes directly to the LUNGevity Foundation in Chicago, an organization dedicated to funding lung cancer research and providing support to the lung cancer community.

This is the third year for the band competition, which will be held March 8. Young said she doesn't yet know where the competition will be held, though it probably will be at White Station Middle School.

Playing for a Cure raised $8,000 last year. The money was raised through entry fees and sponsorships through advertisements in the program. And 125 percent of that went to the LUNGevity Foundation.

It's 125 percent because organizations such as the American Cancer Society match a certain percentage of what is raised by Playing for a Cure.

Because of word spreading about the competition, Young said she is hoping to have more bands participate in March, increasing the amount of money that will be donated to the foundation.

Using a band competition to raise money for cancer research makes sense because music is close to Young. She was a band director at Wooddale Middle School and was coming up on her 10th year of being a band instructor when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She currently works as a part-time band director at Bellevue Baptist Church.

Shining a spotlight

For area band students, Playing for a Cure is an opportunity to show off their talents and try to win prize money. But it's also a way for all those involved to contribute to an organization that funds lung cancer research.

"It gives the kids another avenue to play their instruments in a band setting," Young said, adding that another one of the highlights is the platform it gives to those afflicted with the disease.

Survivors are invited to speak at the competition. Displays are set up in the school where the event is held with personal stories from people all over the country who've been diagnosed, treated or affected by lung cancer.

"I wanted to be able to recognize survivors and people who are dealing with the disease," Young said, "because there is a stigma that goes along with lung cancer, which is namely (the belief that everyone who gets lung cancer got it from) smoking. A lot of times when people are diagnosed with the disease they may keep it hidden and won't tell anybody that they have it because they're in fear of someone saying, 'Well you brought this on yourself because you were a smoker.'"

Young was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, which is not the type of cancer typically found in smokers.

Eye on the future

As for Young, she's been cancer-free for the last two years. Two years ago, she began taking a new targeted treatment drug called Tarceva.

Though she now is cancer-free, Playing for a Cure is something Young said she hopes to continue for years to come.

Comparing lung cancer research to the evolution of AIDS, Young pointed out that when AIDS first was discovered, there was a stigma attached to it as well as a lack of substantial funding. But as more knowledge about AIDS has made its way to the public, funding began to pour in and it has led to new treatments.

"And I'm hoping to bring that to lung cancer," she said. "That would happen in the next 10 years or so, so that if my child, which I know he has a predisposition for this now, because his mother has it ...

I want to make sure that if it does happen, which pray it doesn't, but if it does, there are treatments available where he doesn't have to fear for his life."

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