By Michelle McMahon
My connection to lung cancer began when I was a teenager. I lost my mom to this disease just before her 53rd birthday. Some 33 years later I was handed the same lung cancer diagnosis in the form of Bronchoalveolar Carcinoma (BAC). I was 49 years old and like my mom I had never smoked or experienced any ill health.
It all started with a small, nagging, non-productive cough that wouldn’t go away. After a few weeks, my husband encouraged me to go to the doctor to have it checked out. Initially, it presented as pneumonia, but after a course of antibiotic therapy and no improvement noted they did further testing. I got the results. It was cancer. I was shaken and afraid. We chose a pulmonologist and a surgeon for the upcoming courses of treatment. I had two surgeries in four months including many more tests, appointments and treatments.
Today, I am cancer free, but due to a genetic component of my disease, my cancer has a high likelihood of returning. Lung cancer sufferers are also at risk for developing a different type of lung cancer and or a separate secondary cancer. I was accepted to participate in a clinical trial through Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City for a drug with properties thought to reduce that likelihood. The clinical trial was a two-year commitment which meant travel, more appointments, more testing, taking the research medication as well as medications to combat the difficult side effects of that treatment. Eventually the drug was approved by FDA and is now available to others.
This journey has and continues to enlighten me as I become more educated in the facts, statistics and treatment of lung cancer and having the understanding for what those suffering with it are facing. I was moved to establish a foundation dedicated to raising money for research and educating people about this disease. Each year, I partner with Lung Cancer Alliance and host a yearly fundraising event where the proceeds are donated to support our common goals including eliminating the research funding inequities and securing more federal dollars to fuel treatment breakthroughs to beat this disease. This is our ninth fundraising event and we grow a little more every year. We’ve gone from a bike race in a town park to a 5K run/walk in a larger venue offering music, food, and more.
My advice to anyone thinking about hosting an event is to “do it!” Set your goals, recruit passionate help, decide on the format and let it rip! You’ll be surprised by the talents and generosity that exists in your community. People will come to help and be generous because deep down people are good and want to see cancer cured in their lifetime.
If you’re in the Buffalo, NY area on November 10, stop by the Fairgrounds in Hamburg, say hello and immerse yourself in a day of fun aimed at beating lung cancer!