CARMEL VALLEY — Even though the number of smokers has declined, the incidence of lung cancer has not. Today, 75 percent of all lung cancer cases are diagnosed in those who have never smoked or who quit decades ago. Most will not survive beyond five years.
For La Jolla resident Mike Stevens, it began with a cough at 43. Linda Schwenkmeyer of Carmel Valley had no cough, just a mysterious pain in her neck that persisted until it was diagnosed as a tumor in 2006. After a three-year battle, she passed away in 2009 at age 52. Linda left a husband, Karl, and two children: Derek who is currently a student at UC Santa Barbara and Kara who is attending Canyon Crest Academy.
Linda Schwenkmeyer represents a growing number of females between the ages of 40 and 79 who have never smoked to be diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Linda beat the average and was able to lead a fairly normal life for two of the three years,” Karl Schwenkmeyer explained. “It was in the last few months that her strength left very quickly. Unfortunately, there are little to no symptoms for otherwise healthy people enjoying healthy lifestyles.”
Before her death Linda Schwenkmeyer and fellow-cancer patient Mike Stevens served on the organizing committee for the first Breath of Hope Lung Cancer Walk in March 2009. When Linda’s health began to fail, Karl Schwenkmeyer stepped up and assumed her role. He has remained on the committee to this date.
On May 1, Karl Schwenkmeyer and Stevens will be on hand to launch the third annual San Diego Breath of Hope Cancer Walk sponsored in association with the Lung Cancer Alliance, or LCA, the only national nonprofit organization that provides support and advocacy for the lung cancer community. All proceeds will benefit LCA.
In addition to serving as co-chair of LCA — California, Stevens is among the only 3 to 5 percent of patients who have survived stage 4 lung cancer.
“Most people don’t know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the nation and in California, taking more lives than breast, colon, prostrate and pancreatic cancers combined,” he said.
Emceed by NBC 7/39’s Whitney Southwick, the 5K walk will be held at Cancer Survivors Park on Harbor Island. Registration and an expo begin at 7:30 a.m. The walk starts at 9 a.m.
It is estimated that 1,500 San Diegans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, killing nearly twice as many women as breast cancer and three times as many men as prostate cancer. Despite being the deadliest of the major cancers, lung cancer receives the lowest amount of research dollars.
“Lung cancer is a real mismatch in that it is a major cancer to cause the most damage, yet receives the lowest funding,” Karl Schwenkmeyer explained. “Because it’s so deadly, there are very few survivors in our group. It’s up to the rest of us to become advocates and carry the flag.”
Another lesser-known fact according to the Centers for Disease Control is that secondhand smoke is responsible for more than 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year.
Organizers of the walk hope to match the $126,000 this year that was raised at last year’s walk.
Online pre-registration for the walk is $30, event day registration is $35 and registration for children 12 and under is $15. Each registrant receives a free T-shirt and a ticket to the June 4 Padres game against the Houston Astros. The event will include a pregame ceremony and recognition of lung cancer awareness before the first pitch.
“It’s great to get those people who are directly touched by lung cancer involved,” Karl Schwenkmeyer said. “It’s a very uplifting experience for all of us to come together.”
The third annual San Diego Breath of Hope Lung Cancer Walk is made possible because of the support of sponsors. To date, Torchbearer Sponsorship is being provided by NBC 7/39. Innovator Sponsors include UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and Genentech/(osi) pharmaceuticals. In-kind sponsors include EDCO, Bare Escentuals, La Jolla Printing & Imaging, Palomar Mountain Premium Spring Water and Whole Foods. For sponsorship opportunities, contact Emily Eyres at (202) 742-1424.
To register online or for more information visit sdbreathofhope.kintera.org.