Marquette Wire

Free to Breathe Walk to be held Saturday

Jon+Reens+poses+for+a+photo+at+last+year%27s+Free+to+Breathe+Walk.+
Jon Reens poses for a photo at last year's Free to Breathe Walk.

Jon Reens poses for a photo at last year's Free to Breathe Walk.

Photo by courtesy of Lung Cancer Research Foundation

Photo by courtesy of Lung Cancer Research Foundation

Jon Reens poses for a photo at last year's Free to Breathe Walk.

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Many people may not realize how precious the function of their lungs is. However, for those affected by lung cancer like Susan Smedley, the Free to Breathe event manager, and Jon Reens, an annual participant, it’s something they think about frequently. The Free to Breathe Walk will be held Oct. 13 in Milwaukee with the purpose being to shed light on a rather understated disease.

The two sisters who started the event 10 years ago reached out to start the event in memory of their mom who was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“They had reached out to us to say we want to do something, we want to have an event here and then we worked with them to support it … and make it happen,” Smedley said.

The Free to Breathe Walk starts at 8 a.m. and includes a DJ, prize baskets, photos and a run for kids known as Kid Dash.

Photo by courtesy of Lung Cancer Research Foundation
Last year's Kids Dash was a success and will again be a part of the event this Saturday.

The event itself is grassroots and since it started, attendance has fluctuated depending on the volunteer committee they have present. Lung cancer impacts most of those on the committee in some way.

“We are a part of their healing which is wonderful and empowering for them and we also celebrate when they are ready to move on,” Smedley said.

One participant in the walk, Jon Reens, said he would agree with the sense of community that this walk brings.

“Nine years ago my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. … He felt alone … (and) we wanted to show him we were all supporting him,” Reens said.

Reens emphasized how the walk shows that there is a community and that no one is truly alone. After his first Free to Breathe walk, he knew there was power and strength in numbers.

“All of these people have each other’s back … fighting for (the) same thing …  (and) it’s about letting those who are fighting the fight know that there is help,” Reens said.

Along with emotional support, most of the people who register for the walk also fundraise. The money raised goes toward more research opportunities to help battle this disease. Both Smedley and Reens emphasize that they both raise money for the cause.

As someone who was diagnosed at age 32 with lung cancer, Smedley was shocked at the lack of funding for treating the disease. With the help of fundraising, six new treatments have been brought to market — a huge improvement in research — as well as the reduction in stigma toward lung cancer.

“There’s a stigma out there about lung cancer that it’s a smoker disease, … it’s a breather’s disease, … (but there’s) nothing more important than people knowing that anyone with lungs could be impacted by lung cancer,” Smedley said.

The walk is a place where people who have experienced similar situations can come together, and to one specific Marquette student, Anna Kilzer, a freshman in the College of Health Sciences, this event is something that emphasizes community and would be something she’d be interested in attending, despite not having a personal connection to lung cancer.

“I think it would be cool to see all of the people who have had similar experiences. … It’s a cool way for them to bond and see that they are not alone and that other people are going through the same thing,” Kilzer said.

Those who are interested in participating in the walk can register on the Free to Breathe Milwaukee website and register with a team if they already know someone participating or on their own.

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