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Support cancer research together

Riding a bicycle along the New Hampshire seacoast is an exhilarating experience. You can hear the waves crashing on the rocks, smell the fresh ocean air and the scenery is a visual feast! Now, imagine enjoying that wonderful bike ride and supporting a good cause. The American Lung Association’s Cycle the Seacoast event in early May provides the opportunity to do just that. Cyclists start out in Portsmouth, enjoy cycling beside the ocean and then head inland through the towns and countryside of southeast New Hampshire. The money raised by Cycle the Seacoast supports research, education and advocacy for all diseases of the lung, including asthma, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer.

For the past seven years, I’ve volunteered at the first rest stop in Rye along with a dedicated, cheerful group of family members and friends. We enjoy being at that lovely spot and greeting cyclists who stop for a cup of coffee, water, fruit and snacks. Bike repairs and support for cyclists also arer provided. People choose whether to ride 25, 50 or 100 miles, and rest stops are available on all routes. There are families raising money to support a child with asthma, people with lung cancer and people who have family members with other lung diseases. It’s a fun, marvelous experience for volunteers and cyclists.

I’m a long-term survivor of stage-four lung cancer thanks to medical research, participating in clinical trials, receiving cutting-edge care at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and pure luck. That very phrase “long-term survivor of stage-four lung cancer” is surprising and a relatively new development in cancerland. After being treated for allergies and asthma for more than a year, I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in August 2011, during the week of my 58th birthday. This is shocking news for anyone to get, but I’m a never-smoker. When I was diagnosed, I was unaware that people who didn’t smoke could get lung cancer. About 20% of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients are never-smokers.

When I was first diagnosed, I wondered if I’d be alive for the next year, debating whether to buy a new calendar or to renew my AAA membership and magazine subscriptions. I’ve learned to make plans based on results of CT scans, plan activities for the mornings when I have energy and plan to be home and in my comfy chair when I need a rest in the afternoon. Each day, month, season and year is an amazing bonus, when I can enjoy birds all year, flowers in the spring, jumping in the ocean in summer, colorful leaves in the fall and the beauty of a fresh snowfall in the winter. Thanks to medical research, each year in August when I celebrate my birthday, I also celebrate another “cancerversary,” which is amazing and wonderful!

More has happened in cancer research since I was diagnosed eight-and-a-half years ago than in the prior 50 years. There has recently been news about the declining rate of cancer deaths, especially from lung cancer, resulting from better screening and new treatment options. This is wonderful news, but we need more research since an alarming number of people continue to be diagnosed every year. The American Lung Association holds educational forums, sponsors fundraising walks and bike rides and provides support for essential medical research. I participated in their LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., four years ago and will do that again this coming March. Advocates from across the country will meet with their senators and representatives to raise awareness and ask for their support for funding for medical research. I am asking you to join me and keep fighting cancer. Please consider participating or volunteering for Cycle the Seacoast in May.

Deb Smith is a former special education teacher at Woodsville and Seabrook elementary schools and lives in Kensington.