Jenny White’s doctor ordered a chest x-ray after she developed a bad cough from using cleaning products on the bathroom of a Donelson home she and her husband were remodeling. The x-ray showed that her lungs were swollen but normal. Two years later, however, she was diagnosed with stage 1A adenocarcinoma, lung cancer.
Although the CAT-scan was negative, over the years an area in her lungs began to calcify, growing by 30 percent.
“I exercised, tried to eat right and even ran a half marathon 10 days before my surgery. Really? I could understand if I developed diabetes because it runs in the family, or maybe heart disease, but both my grandmothers lived well into their 90s and so was I.”
Lung cancer, more common in smokers, was a surprise for White, 49, who does not smoke. She said women, more worried about breast and skin cancer, often do not recognize lung cancer until it’s too late.
For White, though, there was still hope that the cancer had not spread beyond the lungs. The doctors successfully removed the cancerous area.
That she has been cancer free for five years is significant, said White. “Only about 17 percent of lung cancer patients reach five years.”
“My career at the time was as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Calling on primary care physicians. I thought I was managing life pretty well considering I was missing a lobe of my lung and taking chemo, but you know how you don’t realize how bad you feel until you start feeling better? That was me! After I stopped Tarceva, I realized how the fatigue side effect had dominated by life. I suddenly felt like the Energizer Bunny! It took me most of the summer of 2011 to learn to live a balanced life, that I didn’t need to do everything that came my way because I was afraid I’d miss out on something. I viewed life very differently after lung cancer. Life was meant to be lived!”
As a result of her own experience, White has started doing her own research, admitting that it’s alarming that more women will die from lung cancer than breast and skin cancer, combined.
“Usually there are no symptoms until someone reaches stage four,” she said, adding that she is fortunate by being diagnosed early. Today, she is building a support group and locating other lung cancer survivors.
White and others will participate in the Nashville Free to Breathe 5K Run/Walk on Saturday, April 16 at Shelby Bottoms Park, presented by The Sarah Cannon Research Institute at Tennessee Oncology.
White will be joined by hundreds of local residents who will participate in the event where all proceeds will go toward supporting Free to Breathe, a lung cancer research and advocacy organization dedicated to doubling lung cancer survival by 2022.
In 2014, Tennessee had the 41st least “favorable environment for avoiding lung cancer” and ranked 49th for “lung cancer prevalence and prevention,” according to a WalletHub study – an in-depth analysis of 2014’s Best & Worst States at Combating the High Cost of Lung Cancer.
“By fund raising and joining us on event day, you are bringing hope to those touched by the disease,” said volunteer event chair Kristy Blackford of Nashville. “More treatment options are needed, and the innovative research we’re funding can help ensure everyone diagnosed with the disease has a fighting chance.”
Since 2005, the Free to Breathe events community has raised more than $14 million to support groundbreaking research and educational programs. This year the organization will be funding two new lung cancer research grants totaling approximately $1.2 million.
Last year, community members, teams and companies across the region supported the Nashville Free to Breathe 5K Run/Walk and 1-mile Walk by raising $31,000. Event chairs hope to surpass that total this year, with proceeds going to supporting programs specifically designed to ensure that more patients become survivors.
“I struggled after my diagnosis to know what to do next. I knew how lucky I was to have been diagnosed early, and I wanted to do something to raise awareness and join a local community to show support and compassion for lung cancer patients. I am grateful to Free to Breathe for a platform to tell my story, educate and advocate for all those affected by lung cancer,” said White.
In addition to the 5K Run/Walk and 1-mile Walk, the day will also include family-friendly activities, live music and fun for the whole family. Special recognition will be given to top finishers and fund-raising heroes.
“I think I was a cause waiting to happen and it all started with cleaning a bathroom. I am so grateful for my early diagnosis. My sweet husband put it all in perspective at our family Thanksgiving in 2010. When asked what he was most thankful for that year, he replied, “Bleach and ammonia.”
To register and begin fundraising, visit www.freetobreathe.org/nashville.
Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 615-298-1500.