That is the two-year survival rate that Kathleen Meyer and Jim Collins, both of Hackettstown, faced when they were diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in 2006 and 2009, respectively. After two years, the rate goes down.
Free to Breathe, a national nonprofit lung cancer research and advocacy organization, hopes to double that survival rate by 2022. They will hold the 7th Annual Lung Cancer Walk of Northwest New Jersey on Sunday, Oct. 2, at Horseshoe Lake Park in Succasunna in an effort to raise awareness, and funds, for the cause.
Among the walkers will be Collins’ daughter, Tracy, who lives in Basking Ridge.
When she learned of her father’s diagnosis, she became an advocate for lung cancer research, which is one of the least funded in spite of its high mortality rate, and has been active in her support of the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act, which has included petitions, appearances before Congress, and talking to news and talk shows.
Tracy says she “engrossed [my] entire life in this, researched every organization, found out which organizations dedicated their funding to research,“ and found Free to Breathe. This will be her sixth time taking part in the Cancer Walk.
“It’s going to be [our team’s] biggest year,” she said. She and her team plan to “wrap him in love.”
Last year’s Northern New Jersey Free to Breathe Lung Cancer Walk brought in 486 participants from throughout the area and raised over $77,000 for lung cancer research.
The event includes a welcome rally, kids’ dash, and one- or two- mile walk on a picturesque course that winds around baseball field and the lake. In addition to the walk, this year’s event will feature a bake sale, family friendly activities, drawings, and on DJ spinning tunes.
The fee includes entry into the event, a 2016 Free to Breathe t-shirt, refreshments and entertainment. Registration for the Walk begins at 9 a.m, with a welcoming at 10 a.m. followed by the Kids’ Dash and then the Walk. The event wraps up around 12 noon.
“This is a great day of fun for a serious cause,” said Jim Dennison, an event organizer and local lung cancer survivor of his own. “You can get lung cancer in multiple ways, whether you are a smoker or not.”
Kathleen Meyer is only one of two lung cancer survivors her doctor has ever had.
“I am not the norm,” she said. “I know of a young woman, age 32, who had small cell and passed away. She never smoked a day in her life.
“You don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer,” she added. “You only need lungs.“
Meyer’s symptoms presented themselves as allergies: watery eyes, runny nose, cough. She bounced from allergist to pulmonologist, and then finally, after a CAT scan, to an oncologist.
“At that point I could not breathe and spoke like Minnie Mouse as the tumor had cut off an airway and one of my vocal cords,” she said. “I was told without immediate treatment I had about 11 weeks to live.“
She began treatment right before Christmas of 2006. Against the odds, she has been cancer-free since 2007.
The current survival rate for lung cancer on any kind is a mere 17 percent, compared to 89 percent for breast cancer and 99 percent for prostate cancer, yet it is among the least funded.
Tracy Collins had her father promise to never give up, and now she wants to show others fighting cancer that there is reason to keep fighting.
“There is hope. Look here,” she said of her father’s case, “it happened.”
And with funding raised through the Cancer Walk and other Free to Breathe events, she, her father, and Meyer are hopeful that the group will be able to meet its goal of doubling the survival rate, and more people can become miracle survivors until, eventually, survival might become the norm.
Free to Breathe is a partnership of lung cancer survivors, advocates, researchers, healthcare professionals and industry leaders who are united in the belief that every person with lung cancer deserves a cure. The organization focuses on accelerating research, helping patients understand treatment options and ensuring patients benefit from innovative therapies that save lives. To learn more visit www.freetobreathe.org.