Vigil in Brackenridge church to offer support for lung cancer victims
Beth Moser of Buffalo Township could wallow in grief and anger over the death of her daughter, Jennifer Chiusano, a 28-year-old nonsmoker who died of lung cancer in February.
Instead, Moser plans to channel her emotions toward promoting a cause that was important to her daughter: increasing support for lung cancer patients.
“One of her greatest disappointments was that she saw no public awareness or support for lung cancer,” Moser said. “The stigma attached to lung cancer has limited research dollars and advocacy. I am determined to change that.”
On Thursday, Moser will sponsor the only “Shine a Light on Lung Cancer” vigil in Western Pennsylvania this year at 6 p.m. in Trinity United Methodist Church in Brackenridge.
It will be one of about 140 vigils nationwide organized through the nonprofit Lung Cancer Alliance this November, which is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
Moser has invited doctors, representatives of support networks and survivors to speak at the event, which she hopes encourages people to donate money to fund research, to get information about early screenings that may extend lives and, above all, to be more supportive of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer.
“My hope and prayer is, 20 years from now, more than 15 percent of people who get lung cancer will survive beyond five years,” Moser said. “That there won't be 28-year-old mothers dying of lung cancer.”
The American Cancer Society notes that although breast cancer is more common in women and prostate cancer is more common in men, lung cancer kills more Americans annually than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.
“It's a highly lethal disease,” said Dr. Gene Finely, the director of the Alle-Kiski Cancer Center that is attached to Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison.
He said the five-year survival chances for patients like Chiusano, who was diagnosed at stage 4 after the cancer had spread to other parts of her body, are less than 1 percent.
Chiusano lived barely a year after she was diagnosed in January 2012 — just months after the birth of her son, Luca, now 2.
Finley will be speaking at the vigil to promote a new screening tool available through the cancer center that aims to catch lung cancer sooner, when it is more treatable.
Finley said a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that using low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scans on people who have a high risk for developing lung cancer can reduce deaths by as much as 20 percent.
The scans now are available through AVH to high-risk candidates — people who have smoked heavily for at least 30 years — for about $200 each, Finley said. He hopes the scans soon will be covered by insurance; he said donations cover the cost now for some low-income people.
“Lung cancer carries a rather nasty little stigma — that if you have lung cancer you deserve it. Why should we care?” Finley said. “You'll never see the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh draped in blue for Lung Cancer Awareness Month like they'll be draped in pink for breast cancer. It's a bit of an uphill battle. That's what is so great about Beth doing this.”
Patty Bierer, 62, of Parks Township, will speak at the vigil about her decade-long battle with lung cancer and its public perception.
Bierer was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer in 2002. Following chemotherapy and the removal of part of one lung, she recovered and went into remission. But a follow-up scan in 2008 showed the cancer had returned and she was at stage 4.
She continues to take a drug that inhibits the growth of cancer, but will not cure it.
“It's not easy,” said Bierer, who one doctor thought would not live to see the year 2009. “I've never given up. There's a lot of things I still intend to do.”
Bierer said her husband, John, and now 25-year-old son, Dave, have been crucial in helping her. But she, like Chiusano, has noticed a lack of public support for lung cancer patients.
“I've seen improvement since 2002, but I think there could be more in the future,” she said.
Stephanie Samolovitch, director of support services at the Cancer Caring Center in Pittsburgh who will speak at the vigil, said her organization runs the only support group specifically for lung cancer patients in the Pittsburgh area that she's aware of.
“Lung cancer has always had a bad rap. The first thing that most people ask me is, ‘Was I a smoker?' ” Bierer said. “I used to answer honestly. But now, what difference would it make? Would you treat me differently? Would you not be kind?”
“If one person directly impacted with lung cancer or a survivor leaves the vigil feeling like they have more community support, and one person feels more informed, then it was worth the weeks and months of preparation,” Moser said. “I will not stop with this event. I'm determined to continue to work in our region.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.