|Local woman attacks lung cancer through 'type A' advocacy|
|Written by By KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor|
|Saturday, 25 July 2009 07:16|
PERRYBURG - Call Louann Cummings the accidental survivor.
The University of Findlay business professor and Perrysburg resident is only alive today because she fractured her foot while preparing for a marathon.
"I was training for the Glass City Marathon in March of 2004" and too busy to make an appointment with her own doctor, she "went to the school doctor in between classes." An X-ray showed nothing so she ended up at Blanchard Valley Medical Center. The technician said her insurance would cover a full-body scan. It revealed a stress fracture, but also something more - a suspicious spot on her lung.
"I had all my testing done in Findlay. I kept it secret for a couple weeks until I knew where I was at.
"I didn't even tell my husband, Paul."
The diagnosis was "malignant, stage 2B, non-metastasized."
With only 15 percent of lung cancer patients alive five years after diagnosis, she's well aware how lucky she is.
Because there are few symptoms, the vast majority of those with lung cancer don't discover it until far too late, when it has spread.
Without that scan "my other lung would have picked up the slack. I would have been stage 4" before there would have been any sign of a problem.
Even Cummings was given only 50-50 odds after undergoing a lobectomy - "a really dreadful surgery" - which removed a third of one lung. "It turned out (the mass) was larger than they'd thought" so she had to follow up with eight weeks of chemotherapy.
That entire summer remains a blur, but Cummings recalls her first thought was "if somebody has to get cancer, I'm a good person to get it." The youngest of her four children was about to start the final year of high school and the others were grown, she had insurance and financial resources, and because it was summer she was not teaching.
On her chemo "good weeks" she started running again, setting a very modest goal at first, such as making it to a neighbor's mailbox.
Five years later, the slim, 56-year-old blonde is looking ahead to becoming a first-time grandmother in November.
As for the running, she's still at it, with another marathon and 10 half-marathons to her credit.
Her doctors, experiencing so few success stories, are thrilled. "I told them 'my breathing is compromised when I run eight miles' and they just laughed at me."
That doesn't mean she was ready to run right out and become the poster child for lung cancer.
"It took me a couple of years. I teach college students, probably many of them smokers, who should probably be hearing this, but I just couldn't.
"But by 2007 I just started to get scared: What's ahead for our kids?"
So she spearheaded a "great fundraiser" at Snook's Dream Car Museum in Bowling Green. Her husband's band, Suburban Legend, was just getting going and they performed for the event which raised $18,000.
"So that was my sort of launch into advocacy."
One thing led to the next and because there are so few lung cancer survivors out there, Cummings is finding herself in demand on a national stage. Several months ago she lobbied in Washington, D.C. for the passage of a major lung cancer research funding bill, the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act of 2009, which would earmark $75 million to research the disease. The bill has currently made it to both floors of Congress, which Cummings calls "promising."
Admitting she is a "type A" person, Cummings now attacking lung cancer as if she were the only soldier on the entire battlefield.
"I'm personally committed to raising $100,000 for lung cancer" and is hard at work preparing for an even bigger Aug. 29 fundraising event in Perrysburg.
She's motivated because she knows the statistics:
¥ "Thirty percent of the cancer deaths in Ohio are lung."
¥ Lung cancer kills almost twice as many American women as breast cancer annually and three times as many men as prostate cancer.
¥ "More non-smokers are getting it, and they don't know why."
Despite the horrific mortality rates, "funding has been flat for decades. There's measly to no research dollars. Breast cancer is sexy and other cancers are sexy, so that's where the research dollars go." In the case of lung cancer, by contrast, many people secretly - if mistakenly - feel victims all brought it on themselves by smoking.
Cummings herself has never smoked, although both her parents were smokers.
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