On Aug. 22, people will gather at Piedmont Park for the Atlanta Free to Breathe Run/Walk to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer. Winston resident Elisa Lailer will be one of those people.

Her mother’s diagnosis of lung cancer is the motivation behind her fighting back against the disease and helping raise awareness and funds.

In September 2013, Lailer’s mother was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. In December of 2013, her mother’s doctors attempted surgery to remove a portion of her lung, but the surgery was deemed unsuccessful. At that point, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. 

Rather than shutting down and giving up, Lailer immediately sought to fight for awareness.

“I wanted to break the stigma attached to people who are affected by this disease,” Lailer said.

Since her mom was diagnosed, she said she wanted to get involved and become an advocate for those affected by lung cancer. Lailer comes from a tight-knit family with three siblings, and her mother and father have been married for nearly 37 years.

“We were upset and discouraged by the news, but our family is one that has always been the type to pick up the pieces when something falls,” she said. “As a group of six we decided that we needed to do something.”

The family began doing their own private fundraisers to pay for medical bills and a special water filter. They raised about $2,000 by setting up a GoFundMe page and selling bracelets. 

Lailer plans to make the walk an annual event for herself. 

“The individuals that I have been collaborating and working with have been wonderful, especially with this being my first year,” she said. “I have felt so welcomed by everyone in the Free to Breathe event.”

Lailer said she knows that the funds need to be raised in order to increase lung cancer survival, as the life expectancy for individuals with lung cancer varies with diagnosis. Lung cancer has a 17 percent five-year survival rate.

When Lailer researched advocacy groups of lung cancer, Free to Breathe had a core message about awareness that struck a chord with her.

Lailer wanted to be sure to note that “if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. Over 221,000 are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and 10-15 percent of individuals with lung cancer had never smoked or been around smoke.”

Funds raised at the event will support Free to Breathe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to doubling lung cancer survival by 2022.

Anyone interested in taking part in the walk can go to www.freetobreath.org and find or create a team to walk.

Those who aren’t able to attend the Atlanta Free to Breathe event can register and raise funds as a virtual walker in the event. Or, those who wish to create their own unique fundraiser can access tools at www.freetobreathe.org/community-fundraising from Free to Breathe that will help turn any passion into a custom fundraising opportunity.

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