by Jill Feldman
This is my favorite time of the year. Longer days, nice weather, and summer right around the corner, but what I really love about this time is March Madness, the NCAA College Men’s Basketball Tournament.
When it comes to sports, I’m competitive. I was a freshman at University of Kansas in 1988 when we won the NCAA tournament and there’s no experience like it. The excitement of college basketball and the tournament, which somehow gets lost in the NBA, is pure because it has nothing to do with ‘stardom,’ rather pure ‘heartdom.’ The desire and determination of every player in every game is so intense, like it’s the last game they will ever play — and for some it is. The single elimination format can lead to disappointing upsets for some, but unimaginable opportunities for others.
The magical moments, when miracles take place, remind us that anything can happen and any team can beat the odds and win. It helps to have a top recruit or player of the year, but it’s the team as a whole that wins — hard working players, determination, humility, teamwork, and a good coach. And if the stars are aligned, the beauty of March Madness comes alive when a Cinderella team advances ~ everyone loves to see the underdog win!
Lung cancer is a world of underdogs. I lost my mom, dad, aunt and two grandparents to lung cancer before I was 30 so in my experience the underdog never won. The only way to manage the pain I felt from the losses was to help change that. I got involved with LUNGevity in 2001 and it wasn’t long before I realized that even with lung cancer, anything could happen and we could help beat the odds. We (early LUNGevity board members) didn’t have money, connections to money, or connections to powerful people, yet within a few years we were the fastest growing charity in the country. Raising awareness and money for lung cancer research is an uphill battle, but we were successful because we created a team based on commitment, hard work, trust, determination, and heart.
We worked hard so we wouldn’t have to see another person we cared about receive a lung cancer diagnosis, but then the unthinkable happened; I became the patient. In January 2009 I had surgery and was diagnosed with lung cancer. Despite my family history, knowledge, and experience, I was shocked. I wasn’t, and still am not, comfortable with the role reversal, but having knowledge and a strong team by my side gave me strength. I was the underdog, the 15% of lung cancers caught early, and I won that ‘game.’ I knew I was at high risk for a second lung cancer, and I was scared, but there was nothing I could do to lower my risk.
As my husband, Jason, my four kids and I slowly let our guard down and settled into our new normal, the wily cancer was quietly growing in another part of my lung, and my fear became a reality. I had a second lung cancer surgery this past September, and I have come to accept that I, unwillingly, qualify for the CMYC (Catch Me if You Can) lung cancer tournament. A lot like the NCAA basketball tournament, I know that each ‘game’ I play will require strategy and a strong, focused team. I am fortunate to have a committed and devoted team of doctors, nurses, family, friends, and an overwhelmingly supportive community. Now, moving forward it is full court press ~ we have to keep cancer in the back court!
I can’t control if or when I will get lung cancer again. And it is disheartening that lung cancer doesn’t have any proven therapies or preventative measures to lower risk of recurrence. Yet I can’t live my life in fear of another cancer. There is promising research out there into prevention, early detection and treatment of lung cancer, but it can’t be completed without a great deal more funding. It’s a helpless feeling, but I always tell my kids to focus on what they can do…So, what can I do? I can build a ‘team’ for Breathe Deep Deerfield to help raise awareness and money to fund research that can save hundreds of thousands of lives, including my own. That is the only control I have over lung cancer. I can, I have, and I will continue to make a difference. Doing so helps me make sense of my crazy roller coaster ride with this insidious disease. I hope you will join my team. We may be the underdog now – but we’re aiming for the Cinderella story.
Breathe Deep Deerfield and other LUNGevity events across the country are about coming together as a ‘team’ to fight lung cancer. And for a disease that has been shadowed by a stigma of shame and blame, it’s about creating a community that understands and does not pass judgment — a community where those affected by lung cancer feel supported and have hope. Please walk with me at Breathe Deep Deerfield on May 6th or support another LUNGevity event near your hometown. We need to give lung cancer a voice – and hopefully, if we work together as a team, there will be more Cinderella stories!
As the exciting collegiate basketball season comes to a close, and Breathe Deep Deerfield gets closer, I will take a quote from the speech that Jimmy Valvano — head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack, whose underdog team won the 1983 NCAA Championship — delivered at the inaugural ESPY Awards in 1993. Given shortly before his death from cancer, Jimmy V said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” I will never give up hope for myself and others affected by lung cancer. And as I watch the Final Four this weekend, I won’t give up hope that my beloved Jayhawks will bring home another championship ~ ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK….GO KU!