Western Pa. family's nonprofit raises lung cancer awareness

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

All cancer diagnoses are devastating. For those who knew and loved Scott Garet, his was unfathomable.

Garet was a marathon runner who paid close attention to his personal fitness. He was a nonsmoker, but on Dec. 20, 2011, at age 26, he died of lung cancer.

“I'm still coping with why this happened. I'll be doing that all my life,” said Jonathan Garet, 24, of Washington, the youngest of the three Garet brothers. “But that's turned into pure determination.”

The family established the nonprofit Scott A. Garet Memorial Foundation and held a 5K run in his honor to raise awareness and money for lung cancer research. Last month, the family donated $14,000 to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, earmarked for lung cancer research.

“Even if we help one family, it's well worth it,” said Michael Garet, 30, of Level Green. “It's all about helping others.”

To donate to the Scott A. Garet Memorial Foundation, mail a check written out to the organization to P.O. Box 329, Meadow Lands, PA 15347. For more information, visit www.scottagaretmemorialfoundation.org or www.flyingmonkey5k.com.

According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco accounts for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths. Every year, 16,000 to 24,000 Americans die of lung cancer, even though they never smoked.

Garet had an undifferentiated tumor, meaning doctors could not classify it, said Dr. Mark A. Socinski, director of lung cancer in the hematology/oncology division at the University of Pittsburgh, who consulted on his case.

“It is frustrating from a physician point of view because we base treatment recommendations on what we're dealing with,” Socinski said.

Lung cancer among nonsmokers is more common than most people think, he said. He stressed the need for screening if someone shows a symptom such as a persistent cough.

“People need to shed the association that it's a smoker's disease and a self-inflicted disease,” Socinski said. “No one deserves to get cancer.”

Garet, son of Jim and Rebecca Garet of Washington, had a healthy sense of competition. He played soccer at Trinity High School and Waynesburg University, where he studied math and secondary education. He liked to play tennis with his brother — he even documented scores of their casual matches.

He found his passion for running through friends. It was normal for him to log 100 miles a month.

When he began experiencing back pain in August 2011, he assumed it was muscle strain. When it wouldn't go away, he consulted doctors, and on Sept. 1, 2011, an MRI uncovered a tumor in his back. A CAT scan the next day revealed more tumors throughout his body.

Weeks of tests followed, with doctors stymied in their search for the root cause. Finally, they determined Garet had stage 4 mixed-cell carcinoma lung cancer.

No one could determine why. The family sought a second opinion, but the diagnosis was the same.

“The doctors kept saying, ‘You did nothing wrong,'” Jonathan Garet said.

Chemotherapy followed, but the tumors did not shrink enough. Garet had family with him around the clock at UPMC Shadyside.

“We did what we had to do,” said Jonathan Garet, eyes welling with tears. “We focused all our attention on Scott.”

He was surrounded by family when he died peacefully at his parents' home, illuminated by the bright lights of his favorite Christmas decorations.

This time of year is difficult. Formerly joyful acts, such as decorating the house for the holidays, elicit intense emotion in the Garets. They persevere in Scott's honor.

“Every time we have to tell the story again, it hurts. It brings pain,” said Jim Garet, 56. “But we have to do something because God forbid our other sons get the same disease.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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