Five long months is how long Jen Thibodeau, 38, of Waltham, had to watch her mother, Connie Malsky, battle lung cancer. With her two younger sisters, Stephanie McMann, 35, and Kimberly Valente, 28, by her side, Thibodeau stepped in as the family matriarch, to ensure that her mother received the best possible care and health benefits until the end as she was surrounded by her daughters and their expanding broods.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, the three sisters will participate in the LUNGevity Foundation’s eighth annual Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. They will be among the expected 2,000 people to participate in the one-day fundraising event with the collective goal of raising $250,000 to fund critical lung cancer research, advocacy and support across the country. The trio will walk for the fourth consecutive year under the umbrella “Team Connie,” a returning Walk team formed in their mother’s memory. Their goal is to raise more than $2,000 for the cause as a tribute to Malsky who valued family and taught her children to love unconditionally and be kind to others. In 2010, the team’s inaugural year participating in the Walk, “Team Connie” raised more than 5,000.
Malsky was diagnosed with lung cancer in Oct. 2009. Prior to her diagnosis she experienced pain and stiffness in her hand that her doctor attributed to carpel tunnel syndrome. Consequently, she received weekly cortisone shots. It wasn’t until she suffered sharp chest pains, did she go to the emergency room where a series of tests revealed she had lung cancer. Normally healthy and active, Malsky began to rapidly lose weight and five months later she died at the age of 55.
“Since my mother’s passing, she has missed my younger sister’s wedding and the birth of my nephew who was named Connor after our mom,” says Thibodeau. “We are still grieving. Our lives will never be the same without our wonderful mother. Participating in the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk together as a family is the best way we know how to feel like we are doing something to help other people while remembering our mother and supporting a cause that directly affected her and our family. It is comforting and motivating to know that our efforts and funds raised will strictly benefit current and future lung cancer patients.”
Each year, “Team Connie” varies in size, with approximately 30 walkers representing Malsky’s friends and family, including her six grandchildren who range in age from 2 to 15. Malsky’s two-year old grandson, whom she never had the chance to meet, will be pushed along the route in a stroller. During the Walk, members of the team will wear matching blue t-shirts with the team’s name and the white national lung cancer awareness ribbon displayed in white lettering across the chest.
“I can’t imagine fighting lung cancer without a family member advocating for you,” says Thibodeau. “Sometimes people don’t realize that when you get sick, your life stops. This is especially true with lung cancer due to the late detection and how fast the disease progresses. Prior to her diagnosis, my mother worked full-time at a local dermatologist’s office where the patients and staff loved her. She never missed a sporting event or a dance recital for her grandkids. To her, family and being there for others was everything. When she got sick, the bills piled up and she needed help. Luckily, my sisters and I were in the position to step in and we’d like to help other lung cancer patients too.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, claiming approximately 160,000 lives every year. It can afflict anyone, regardless of smoking history, gender, or ethnicity. Currently, only 16 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive five years post-diagnosis. With early detection, there is hope of long-term survivorship.
LUNGevity Foundation is the nation’s largest private organization dedicated to research for the early detection and treatment of lung cancer. The Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk is one of more than 80 LUNGevity events that take place annually across the country. Since 2002, they have collectively raised more than $11.4 million. Participants often walk in honor of someone currently battling lung cancer or in memory of someone lost to the disease. Individuals and/or businesses are encouraged to sign up as teams. The walk will kick-off at 11 a.m. at DCR’s Mother’s Rest Area in South Boston. The course is stroller and wheelchair-friendly.
“The LUNGevity Foundation and the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk are so important because more media attention and funding is given to more prominently marketed cancers, such as breast cancer which has the pink campaign,” says Thibodeau. “The problem is that lung cancer kills more people. This disease affects so many of us and is in need of more funding to do the research to help find a cure. It is our responsibility to do what we can to stop this awful disease.”
Since its 2006 inception, the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk has alone raised more than $1 million. The event was founded by two lung cancer patients, the late Rich Kaufman and the late Geri Norris, with the support of a small group of family, friends and volunteers also touched by lung cancer.
To register for the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk on Nov. 2, or to support a walker, visit lungevity.org/boston or call (312) 407-6100. Participants can enter the discount code BREATHE for $5 off the registration fee. November is lung cancer awareness month.