Two to six months is the length of time Mary Dunn, 57, of Lynnfield, was given by her doctors to get her affairs in order. She was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in August 2010 and feels she is cured of the cancer as of 2011. Having beaten the odds, she is now more determined than ever to help generate awareness for lung cancer and change the stigma often associated with this disease.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, Dunn will proudly walk as a cancer survivor in the LUNGevity Foundation’s eighth annual Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. She will be among the expected 2,000 people to participate in the one-day fundraising event with the collective goal of raising $250,000 to fund critical lung cancer research, support and advocacy across the country.
As the assistant dean of admissions at Salem State University, Dunn often walks long distances across campus to meet with colleagues, students and their families. When she experienced shortness of breath and dizziness along her usual route, Dunn knew something was wrong and ignored it as long as possible until she finally called her doctor. Upon receiving her diagnosis, Dunn was brought to Beth Israel Hospital where she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed by prophylactic brain radiation, a precautionary measure recommended by her doctor that often reduces the risk of the cancer resurfacing and/or metastasizing to her brain. Dunn spent more than 160 days at the hospital between radiation, chemotherapy and a few additional nights in the hospital. Not once, was she alone.
“I was in shock when I first received my diagnosis and was told that I would not live much longer,” says Dunn. “To tell your family and friends this news, is one of the hardest things a person can do. The problem is that you can’t fight lung cancer or any other type of cancer alone. My biggest piece of advice to current cancer patients is to keep a positive attitude, seek prayers, trust in your medical team and ask for and accept help from others. I had incredible support behind me from my family, friends and doctors and anytime I could ask for help, I did. They and my faith are the reason I am still here today.”
Dunn will walk under the umbrella, “Team M&Ms,” a returning Walk team formed in honor of her and a friend, Marie Pizziferri, who is also a lung cancer survivor. The team hopes to raise $2,500 for the cause in Dunn and Pizziferri’s honor. “Team M&Ms” will walk 25 members strong wearing matching t-shirts and baseball caps with the team’s name displayed across the chest. This will be the third consecutive year Dunn will participate in the event.
“Walking in, and raising money for, the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk is a very emotional experience,” says Dunn. “For me, I am looking for cancer survivor t-shirts along the route and it always hits home when I see very few in between the regular participant t-shirts. With current treatments available, it’s hard to survive. People usually think of lung cancer as a smoker’s disease but it’s really not. There are a lot of people battling lung cancer who have never smoked. They are young and old. They are men and women. If you have lungs, you are at risk.”
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 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.
To 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.