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Jill's Story

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A lot of smart, talented and creative folks are involved in transforming downtown Oklahoma City into something special. One of those folks is Jill Delozier, who has overseen marketing and community relations for the past three years. Sometimes we’re all guilty of forgetting that each person has a personal story – and a passion that drives them. For Jill, her story, and her cause, is raising money for the battle against lung cancer, an often misunderstood disease.

I appreciate Jill’s willingness to share her story as she hopes to get the community to join the inaugural Free to Breathe Run/Walk this Sunday at Wheeler Park along the Oklahoma River. It is a 5k and one-mile event, and as I continue to work on my own health, it is my goal to do a 5k walk this next year. In the meantime, I’m seriously considering entering the one-mile Free to Breathe walk this Sunday.

She didn’t mind making a fool of herself to make us laugh, saying exactly what she thought of our bad attitudes, or giggling while she forced my sister and me to hug each other for 10 minutes as “punishment” for fighting. She made scrambled eggs for her dogs, loved chick flicks, and she once ate damn near a whole box of Triscuits and squeeze cheese in one sitting.

She was our mom, and she was the bravest woman I have ever known.

Not that she didn’t have flaws. She was stubborn, messy, and cussed like a sailor. (Which was actually hilarious.) But she was the perfect mom to Jenny and me. She truly molded us into the women we are today: independent, brave, beach-going, artichoke-loving sisters who work hard for the causes and people we love.

She was positive and lighthearted all the time, even in the face of a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis at age 52.

It’s been 8 years since she passed away, and I still sometimes catch myself thinking I should call her to tell her a bit of good news or ask her advice.

My heart breaks a little every time I think about my daughter never knowing her grandmother and my mom never holding my sweet Emily.

And it happens to thousands of families every day.

Cancer is the cause of 1 in 4 deaths in the United States, and lung cancer is the deadliest of all cancers, with just a 17% survival rate.

According to the American Cancer Society, a projected 160,000 people in our country (2440 in Oklahoma,) will die of lung cancer this year, which is more than prostate, brain, liver, breast, and colon cancer deaths combined. One in 13 men and one in 16 women will get lung cancer in their lifetime.

Lung cancer research is also grossly underfunded. The National Cancer Institute gives lung cancer research about half the funds that it gives to breast cancer research, even though it kills 4 times as many people.

Lung cancer patients don’t like to talk about the disease because they feel ashamed if they smoke or ever did smoke, and that stigma is constantly perpetuated. Although a history of smoking is the biggest risk factor, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. Up to 27% of patients have never smoked.

It’s easy for people to deny their risk for serious illness by blaming patients’ actions. However, I want people to start thinking differently. No matter what kind of lifestyle choices they’ve made, no one deserves to get cancer.

Since my mom’s death, I’ve been constantly searching for ways to honor her memory and to help other families facing cancer. Then a couple of years ago, my sister introduced me to Free to Breathe.

Free to Breathe’s mission is to ensure surviving lung cancer is the expectation, not the exception. I love this mission so much because it gives hope to patients and their families, something we didn’t have after reading the stats back in 2005.

The organization aims to double lung cancer survival rates by 2022, which is aggressive but attainable. They primarily raise funds for research through events, but Free to Breathe also provides educational materials and advocates for additional funding, more testing, and new treatment options.

The first-ever Free to Breathe run/walk in Oklahoma City will take place this Sunday, November 2 at Wheeler Park, just south of downtown at Western and I-40. I hope you will join Jenny and me, along with our family, friends, and many others impacted by lung cancer as we remember our loved ones, honor survivors, and raise money for continuing research.

More than 350 participants will join a pre-race rally at 1:30 p.m. to share their experiences with lung cancer and messages of hope.

The 5k and 1-mile events begin at 2:00 p.m. and will lead runners and walkers the along the scenic Oklahoma River Trails.

To register, form a team, or contribute, visit freetobreathe.org/oklahomacity

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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›

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