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Lung Cancer Survivors Share Stories of Value of Early Detection and Hope for More Effective Treatments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Lung cancer survivors from across the nation have joined together through LUNGevity Foundation to share their stories and educate the public about lung cancer, the nation's number one cancer killer that affects one in 14 Americans. The survivors demonstrate the hope that science offers for more effective lung cancer treatments and the importance of early detection. Throughout the year, but especially during November, national Lung Cancer Awareness Month, those touched by lung cancer seek to build public awareness of the disease and the need for critical research funds. LUNGevity Foundation, the nation's largest lung cancer- focused nonprofit, funds the most promising research for the early detection and successful treatment of lung cancer, and provides information, resources and a community to patients and caregivers.

"Progress in lung cancer research is giving us reason to be hopeful," said LUNGevity Foundation President Andrea Stern Ferris. "During Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and throughout the year, creating greater awareness and visibility of the disease is critical. Despite being the nation's number one cancer killer, lung cancer receives relatively little government research funding, and LUNGevity is working to fill this gap. As our spokespeople reflect, anyone can be affected by lung cancer, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or smoking history. I hope their stories help people understand both the impact of lung cancer and the need for investing in science to help those affected." 

The past decade has seen significant research-based advances in early detection and therapeutics for lung cancer patients. The 2011 National Cancer Institute's National Lung Screening Trial showed the importance of detecting lung cancer early, and for the first time established a screening approach for a high-risk population. Progress is being made in research for the development of blood biomarkers, genome sequencing capabilities and molecular and imaging technologies to help detect the disease. Targeted therapies are greatly improving the treatment experience, including quality of life, for some lung cancer patients, and progress is being made in both immunotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy (cutting off the blood supply to lung cancer tumors).

The spokespeople listed below illustrate and speak to the critical importance of early detection, the power of targeted therapies, and survivorship. Their stories illustrate the impact and the promise of ongoing research, and they are available for interviews.

Early Detection:

Dusty Donaldson, 58, High Point, N.C., a former smoker who quit 26 years before her diagnosis. She was diagnosed with stage 1B lung cancer in September 2005, luckily before the cancer had time to spread. She had surgery and chemotherapy and is currently cancer free. She notes, "I am compelled to find others and share with them information regarding screening for early detection; less common risk factors, such as radon exposure; and symptoms of lung cancer, so they may survive as I have." Watch Dusty share her story here.

Heather Geraghty, 26, Maple Shade, N.J., diagnosed in December 2010, with a low-grade lung cancer tumor called Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma at age 24. After experiencing persistent chest pain, a CAT scan revealed a mass in her right lung. Doctors removed two-thirds of Heather's right lung. Nearly two years cancer-free, Geraghty has dedicated her life to sharing her story and showing that lung cancer can affect anyone, even 24 year olds. See her story here.

Jan Gibson, 54, Prince Frederick, Md.,  a 46 year-old nonsmoker diagnosed with the Adenocarcinoma form of non-small cell lung cancer in 2005. After experiencing chest pain on her right side, she went to the emergency room, concerned she was having a heart attack. Doctors discovered a mass, stage 1A lung cancer, and removed a portion of her left lung. The day of her surgery, she was so that worried she wrote her daughters goodbye letters, "just in case." She has been cancer-free ever since. See her story here.

Targeted Therapies:

Baltimore Orioles Public Relations Director Monica Barlow, 35, Ellicott City, Md., has never smoked, yet she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2009, when she couldn't shake a nagging cough. Her tumors had the ALK mutation, and she was treated with the targeted drug now known as crizotinib as an example of personalized medicine. With this treatment, she is able to control her disease. Monica shares her story to help others affected and show the impact of lung cancer research for creating more effective treatments.

Jeff Wigbels, 63, Atlanta, Ga., a nonsmoker, triathlete and marathon runner diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2006, the day before his wife's due date for their second child. Jeff's cancer had metastasized to his abdomen, chest and brain. He began a series of personalized treatment trials at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and, by 2008, the only remaining cancer in his body was the original tumor in his lungs. After discovering that his tumor had the ALK mutation, Jeff took part in another clinical trial with a targeted therapy drug. He has since participated in a number of clinical trials that have helped him, and he is nearly cancer free. With a deep desire to give back and educate others, Jeff founded Take Aim at Cancer to raise money for lung cancer research and awareness of personalized, targeted cancer treatments and is partnering with LUNGevity Foundation.

Matt Ellefson, 50, Sioux Falls, S.D., diagnosed with advanced non-small cell lung cancer in 2009 and given eight months to live if untreated. As a never smoker living a healthy lifestyle, he was shocked by his diagnosis. After completing aggressive treatments, his cancer went into remission. When it reoccurred, he started targeted gene therapy and is currently on a targeted drug. He credits his current good health to the wisdom of his doctors; his strong faith in God; a healthy and fit lifestyle (he runs half marathons); and the peace that comes with helping others. Ellefson volunteers with LUNGevity to help others impacted by lung cancer. Watch his story here.


Jerry Sorkin, Bethesda, Md., 47, a three-time cancer survivor and never smoker. He was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in August 2007. When he was in high school he was treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma, with a recurrence in college. A CEB executive and father of two young daughters, he founded LUNGevity's Breathe Deep DC walk, the largest lung cancer event in the area, as a way to help the lung cancer community share, remember, heal, and support the fight against the deadly disease. Watch him tell his story, here.

Jon Filbert, 35, Sanger, Texas, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 during his pre-surgery X-rays for thyroid cancer. His doctor's eyes were red from crying when he delivered the news to Jon. Jon has been treated with targeted therapy and was also in a chemotherapy trial with a Novartis drug. His wife and friends have steadfastly supported him in his four-year battle against the disease. Watch his video here.

Jose Rodriguez, 52, Columbus, Ohio, was diagnosed with stage II non-small cell lung cancer in 2011. He had surgery followed by four rounds of chemotherapy. Currently, there is no evidence of the disease. "Lung cancer is an extremely isolating disease," he says. "It really affects you in such an emotional way. My greatest source of hope has been seeing people with lung cancer survive, and show me how to live with the disease." Watch him share his story here.

LUNGevity Foundation has the largest grants award program for lung cancer research among lung cancer-focused nonprofit organizations in the United States. In the past two years alone, LUNGevity has awarded over $5 million to the most promising lung cancer research projects. The organization also has the largest online support community for lung cancer patients and their loved ones.

The Foundation continues growing a strong lung cancer community, both online and through its nationwide events. The organization hosts over 60 grassroots events across the nation each year, not only raising critical research funds and heightened awareness of the disease, but also helping to educate the public about lung cancer's tragic impact. During November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month, LUNGevity is hosting 14 Breathe Deep walks, providing a place for those impacted by the disease to share, hope and heal.

Lung cancer takes more lives annually than breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined. In fact, with one in 14 Americans diagnosed in his or her lifetime and currently only a 16% five-year survival rate, the number of people who die from lung cancer is equal to having a jumbo jet fall from the sky every single day. More than half the people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked or have already quit smoking.  There is currently no widely-available, cost-effective early diagnostic test for the disease.

About LUNGevity Foundation

The mission of LUNGevity Foundation is to have a meaningful impact on improving lung cancer survival rates, ensure a higher quality of life for lung cancer patients, and provide a community for those impacted by lung cancer.

Through the support of critical research into the early detection and successful treatment of lung cancer, as well as providing information, resources and a community to patients and caregivers, LUNGevity is creating and sharing hope for cures, treatments and enhanced quality of life for lung cancer patients.  

LUNGevity seeks to inspire the nation to commit to ending lung cancer.

For more information, please visit

About Lung Cancer

  • 1 in 14 Americans is diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, regardless of gender or ethnicity
  • Lung cancer kills almost twice as many women as breast cancer and more than three times as many men as prostate cancer
  • About 55% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers
  • Only 16% of all people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive 5 years or more, BUT if it's caught before it spreads, the chance for 5-year survival improves dramatically

SOURCE LUNGevity Foundation
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