I had not heard of Kelcey Harrison until I picked up a copy of the UCSF student newspaper, the Synapse, last December. A front-page story highlighted a four-month, 3,200-mile run that Kelcey completed between Times Square in New York City and across the Golden Gate Bridge and stopping at Crissy Field San Francisco.
The Bay Area woman is an extraordinary woman.
Chances are that I came close to Kelcey as she ran the last leg of her trek across the country in November through our Valley. That was one of the months that I twice a week traveled to UCSF Medical Center to be with my late wife who was being treated for leukemia.
Kelcey, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate, decided to run across the country after close friend Jill Costello, 22, died in 2010 of lung cancer. Besides raising $160,000 for lung cancer research, Kelsey wanted the world to know that lung cancer can strike non-smokers such as her friend and U.C. Berkeley student. Costello not only didn't smoke but was a superstar Pac 10 student-athlete and 4.0 student.
Having run only one half-marathon in my life, I cannot imagine the effort and internal fortitude that it took for this young lady to accomplish her run, which is of Forrest Gump epic. She started July 30, 2012 and finished on Dec. 1, averaging 30-40 miles per day. (A marathon is 26.2 miles). Kelcey wore out 12 pairs of shoes while running through 15 states. She endured temperatures in the 100s and as low as the 20s. Harrison was followed by a motor support team and spent nights at motels - in bed by 9 p.m. nightly and up by 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. - and with host families along the way.
Kelcey entered Southern California from Arizona and worked her way across the Mojave Desert, over the ridge into Techachapi and then down into the Central Valley, traveling along canals and less-traveled roads like Highway 33 in western Stanislaus County. From Techachapi on Nov. 11 she made it to Tranquility (west of Fresno) on Nov. 18 and then to Westley by Nov. 22. It took her another nine days to make it to San Francisco. There might have been anxiety in Arvin, trailing in Tranquility, numbness in Newman, plodding in Patterson, weariness in Westley and tenderness in Tracy as she made her way to Concord and into Marin County.
Kelcey's journey, dubbed "The Great Lung Run," prompted me to delve into the matter of lung cancer. Nearly 57,000 people in California will die from cancer this year, of which one in four will be lung cancer patients. Like many others I had the simplistic view that lung cancer was reserved solely for those who smoke. Not true. An estimated 10 to 13 percent of lung cancer deaths are not smoking related.
I was also unaware, too, of the deadliness of the disease. Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined but accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths. That's because the five-year survival rate of lung cancer is 15.9 percent. Contrast that with breast cancer survival of 99.2 percent. The majority of lung cancer patients are diagnosed so late that they die within a year.
What can you do to prevent lung cancer? Obviously, smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer so the answer is to find a way to stop. To help prevent becoming one of the remaining 13 percent, the medical community suggests a diet that will boost the immune system. That means eating fruits and vegetables which are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids which protect cell DNA and repair damaged cells.
Another thing one can do is test the home randomly for radon, which is the result of broken-down uranium. It is a radioactive gas that cannot be seen, felt, smelled or tasted. Uranium occurs naturally in the soil, and the fear is that homes are being built over natural deposits, creating high levels of indoor radon exposure, which can lead to lung cancer.
Another thing is know what you are being exposed to in the workplace. If you are exposed to fumes, dust and chemicals in the workplace, you have a right to know to what you are being exposed. Gasoline, diesel exhaust, arsenic, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers are all carcinogens and can be found in some work environments. Talk to your employer about limiting exposure.
Lastly, don't subject yourself to smokers' secondhand smoke which contains over 60 known carcinogens. These carcinogens interrupt normal cell development. This interference of cell development is what starts the cancer process.
Lung cancer is only one type of cancer to fear. All of us have been touched by cancer through the lives of others or ourselves. Don't bury your head in the sand. Granted cancer is an unpleasant topic but pretending it doesn't exist doesn't make it non-existent. Obviously what you don't know can hurt you. There are things everyone can do from this day forward to reduce the risks of developing cancer.
Few of us would dare attempt a run across the country but why not some laps on the Ceres High School track in the name of the Ceres Relay for Life? The Relay committee is gearing up for its 2014 event. Get involved. If you can't participate on a relay team, all of us could make a contribution to the American Cancer Society. At the very least, plan to attend the Ceres Relay when it comes around April 12-13 and find out about all the cancers that you can prevent.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at email@example.com