Free to Breathe to raise lung cancer awareness

By Olivia Jones

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The National Lung Cancer Partnership is hosting Kentucky’s second Free to Breathe Lexington 5K Run/Walk event on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Participants in this year’s event can pick up their race packets on Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at John’s Run and Walk Shop.

According to the official event website, Free to Breathe events occur all across the country with the help of volunteers, and all proceeds from registration fees go toward lung cancer research and awareness programs.

“Kentucky needs to care because the state has one of the highest incidents of lung cancer in the country,” said Gina Kinsella, Free to Breathe co-chair.

Lisa Maggio, event organizer and co-chair, explained that although lung cancer affects and kills far more people than breast, prostate, pancreatic and colon cancer combined, it receives significantly less funding for research.

“It’s a hidden disease … there are lots of misperceptions,” said Dr. Ellen Hahn, UK professor and director of the Tobacco-Free Policy Research team.

“Why?” Maggio asked. “Because people associate it as a smoker’s disease, but half of the incidences occur in those who’ve quit smoking or never smoked at all.”

She went on to explain that those diagnosed with lung cancer usually have a 15 percent survival rate five years after being diagnosed, while breast cancer patients have a 90 percent survival rate five years after being diagnosed. See the American Cancer Society’s Facts & Figures.

Hahn explained that the Free to Breathe Event is a kickoff for the three-year anniversary of UK’s tobacco-free policy.

“The tobacco-free policy on campus has been hugely effective,” Hahn said. “There’s been a four-fold increase in students and teachers who are attempting to stop tobacco use. It’s helped to encourage healthy choices.”

According to the Lung Cancer Alliance official website, the organization is promoting the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act to improve the funding situation. The site explains that if passed, the bill will seek higher funding, earlier/more effective screenings and an extensive research plan.

“It’s so scary because it’s happening to people everywhere. If you have lungs you can get lung cancer. That gives me chills,” Maggio said.

She also explained that the partnership hosted the first Free to Breathe event in Kentucky last year.

“We wanted to do something to advocate lung cancer awareness,” Maggio said. “Sometimes you feel like an issue is too big so you don’t know where to start … but in 2010, we started by doing a small, 1-mile walk in Northern Kentucky and then just went from there.”

Hahn walked at the event last year and the one in Indiana a few years ago.

“Last year it was amazingly well attended,” Hahn said.

According to Kinsella, last year’s Lexington event had 275 participants and raised more than $34,000.

“We are hoping to at least do as well as last year, but we hope people understand the need for awareness and funds for research,” Maggio said.

Kinsella explained that two lung cancer survivors are scheduled to speak around 9:30 a.m., before the run/walk begins, and that the mood for the event will be “uplifting, supportive and fun.”

She also said that two days prior to the Free to Breathe event, there were 144 preregistered participants.

“We are using the event in Lexington to share support to those affected,” Kinsella said.

Maggio discussed an additional means of awareness for those who aren’t interested in running.

“We teamed up with UK HealthCare, Central Baptist Hospital, Saint Joseph Cancer Center and Lexington Clinic to host a vigil on Tuesday, at 6:30,” she said.

The Shine the Light Vigil will be at the Signature Club and will focus on community support and acknowledge those previously and presently affected by lung cancer.

Participants in the 5K can pick up their race packets Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. at John’s Run and Walk Shop.