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Community gathers for lung cancer vigil

Event honors those who suffered from disease, coincides with Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Charlottesville residents gathered Thursday evening at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion downtown for a lighted vigil honoring people who had suffered from lung cancer. The event, coinciding with Lung Cancer Awareness Month, aimed to dispel myths surrounding the disease.

Charlottesville Z95.1 DJ Les Sinclair organized the event in hopes of raising awareness about lung cancer in the City and to recognize Charlottesville resident Carol Finch. Diagnosed four years ago, Finch lives an active and healthy lifestyle and has never smoked.

Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer, causing an estimated 80 to 85 percent of cases in the United States, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance. But the disease, which claimed nearly 160,000 lives in the United States in 2008, is not solely a smoker’s illness.

Finch, whose cancer has metastasized into her brain, gave her testimony at the vigil. She said she has recently been suffering from amnesia induced by her illness, which has affected her ability to work and function properly.

“I forgot passwords … I could hardly do a thing,” Finch said. “It’s been a struggle.” She encouraged the crowd of survivors and supporters to lobby Congress for more lung cancer research funding.

Because of meager funding and limited awareness, only 15 percent of lung cancer diagnoses are made during the first stage of the disease, when it is most curable. The five-year survivor rate for lung cancer victims is also slim — a mere 16 percent compared to 89 percent for breast cancer patients and 99 percent for those suffering from prostate cancer.

Vigil participants were encouraged to share their own experiences with the disease. A handful of survivors and loved ones spoke.

One resident, whose father and aunt died from cancer, said lung cancer victims are often blamed for their disease. “Even if they are smokers, they don’t deserve it,” she said.