For nearly seven years, Kristen Brown, 28, of Brookline, watched her mother, Janet, battle stage IV lung cancer before she ultimately succumbed to the disease in Sept. at the age of 54. Living two years longer than nearly all people who receive the same diagnosis, Janet’s courageous fight ignited a desire in her daughter to become a regional advocate for lung cancer awareness and funding.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, Brown will participate in the LUNGevity Foundation’s eighth annual Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. She will be among the 2,000 people expected to participate in the one-day fundraising event with the collective goal of raising $250,000 to fund critical lung cancer research, advocacy and support across the country. Prior to the event, she volunteers as part of the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk’s planning committee, assisting in the logistics planning of the event’s set-up and breakdown as well as assisting with volunteer coordination on Walk day. In the last two years, she also volunteered as the event’s food and beverages sub-committee chair and helped solicit in-kind donations for the cause.
“I chose to become involved with the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk because the LUNGevity Foundation is one of the only charities I could find that strictly focuses on lung cancer awareness, advocacy and patient and family support both on a national and local level,” says Brown. “The Walk itself is an inspiring day where strangers unite for a cause that is so close to each of their hearts. Although it is cold outside, the passion and excitement from the walkers, volunteers and supporters along the route will fill you with a sense of hope and fulfillment that keeps you warm.”
This year, Brown will walk under the umbrella “Team Brown,” a returning Walk team formed in her late mother’s honor representing approximately 13 to 15 members of the Brown’s immediate and extended family and friends. In year’s past, Janet walked as part of the team, proudly wearing the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk survivor t-shirt. This will be the first year Brown will walk and volunteer at the event without her mother and best friend by her side.
Janet was diagnosed with stage IV non-small-cell carcinoma the day after Christmas in 2006 and spent the following days leading up to New Years in the hospital. She was an active woman, a devoted pre-school teacher and a volunteer for a local animal rescue farm. Never a smoker, Janet’s diagnosis came as a shock to her and her family. The Connecticut resident immediately began radiation treatments coupled with an oral targeted therapy at Yale New Haven Hospital. By 2011, the cancer had metastasized from Janet’s lungs through her spinal cord to her brain. In 2013, Janet started a clinical trial but had to stop as the cancer was continuing to grow. Her health continued to decline and she became ineligible for other clinical trials. Last year, she was able to complete the first mile of the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk alongside her friends and family.
“I have been, and will continue to be, involved with the LUNGevity Foundation’s Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk to spread the word that anyone can get lung cancer,” says Brown. “Compared to other cancers, such as breast cancer, that gain more media attention and therefore more financial support, lung cancer is diagnosed more often and yet it receives less funding and less media attention because of the stigma that only smokers are susceptible. My goal is to help raise awareness for this disease with the hope that together we can help to fund more research that will lead to a cure. I also want people to know that anyone can get lung cancer. You don’t have to have been a smoker.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, claiming approximately 160,000 lives every year. It can afflict anyone, regardless of smoking history, gender, or ethnicity. Currently, only 16 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive five years post-diagnosis. With early detection, there is hope of long-term survivorship.
LUNGevity Foundation is the nation’s largest private organization dedicated to research for the early detection and treatment of lung cancer. The Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk is one of more than 80 LUNGevity events that take place annually across the country. Since 2002, they have collectively raised more than $11.4 million. Participants often walk in honor of someone currently battling lung cancer or in memory of someone lost to the disease. Individuals and/or businesses are encouraged to sign up as teams. The walk will kick-off at 11 a.m. at DCR’s Mother’s Rest Area in South Boston. The course is stroller and wheelchair-friendly.
Since its 2006 inception, the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk has alone raised more than $1 million. The event was founded by two lung cancer patients, the late Rich Kaufman and the late Geri Norris, with the support of a small group of family, friends and volunteers also touched by lung cancer.
Brown is currently seeking volunteers to assist her on Walk day. To volunteer or register for the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk on Nov. 2, or to support a walker, visit lungevity.org/boston or call (312) 407-6100. Participants can enter the discount code BREATHE for $5 off the registration fee. November is lung cancer awareness month.