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Pennsylvania sisters organize lung cancer awareness vigil

| Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

Kathy McGinty didn't smoke.

Still, her daughters can't shake the sense that her 2007 death from lung cancer carries a stigma.

"There's this belief out there that if you get lung cancer, you deserve it because you smoked," said Dacey McGinty, 23, of Philadelphia. "Lung cancer victims don't get the same compassion as people with other cancers do. There's a stigma associated with the disease."

Her sister, Kelli Leahy, 29, of Springdale, said her hope is the stigma can be erased by raising awareness to the "true face" of the disease.

"If there's one thing my mother's story can convey, hopefully it's that anybody can get lung cancer," she said.

The sisters, in conjunction with the Lung Cancer Alliance, are coordinating a vigil for Thursday at Veterans Field in an effort to call attention to the struggle those with lung cancer share.

Lung Cancer Alliance is organizing as many vigils as possible across the country as part of its "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" campaign — a movement intended to raise awareness about the disease and support for its victims.

According to the nonprofit's website, 63 vigils are planned for Thursday in 29 states, including two in Pennsylvania. In addition to the one in Springdale, a vigil is planned in Scranton.

Kay Cofrancesco, a Lung Cancer Alliance official, said the concern McGinty and Leahy share about how their mother's illness and death are viewed isn't uncommon.

That's even though 60 percent of new cases of lung cancer involve patients who never smoked or quit decades ago, according to the alliance.

"The stigma is there," Cofrancesco said. "We get any number of calls from women who say they wish they'd been diagnosed with breast cancer instead of lung cancer because of that stigma."

While the impetus for the vigils isn't raising money, McGinty said funding for research and treatment of lung cancer is lacking when compared with other cancers.

"This disease gets so little in funding in comparison to others when you consider the lives it claims each year," she said.

According to the alliance, lung cancer is the leading killer among cancers in the United States, accounting for one of every three cancer deaths. Yet the amount spent on lung cancer per death pales in comparison to other major cancers, according to the alliance.

While roughly $27,500 was spent on breast cancer research for every breast cancer death in 2009, about $1,250 was spent on lung cancer research for every lung cancer death in the same year, according to the alliance.

"There's a huge campaign out there for breast cancer research and support, which is a great thing," McGinty said. "It's inspirational. But it often overshadows other important diseases."

She hopes Thursday's vigil is only the beginning of a quest to raise support for lung cancer victims and their families. She and her sister want the vigil to happen annually.

"When you get support behind you, you can make a world of difference," McGinty said.

McGinty and Leahy said there's no explanation for why their mother, who grew up in Cheswick before moving to Springdale to raise her family, developed small cell lung cancer.

Kathy McGinty beat Hodgkin's disease in the late 1980s. Dacey McGinty said her mother's doctors speculated the lung cancer she was diagnosed with in 2000 developed from radiation treatments she endured battling Hodgkin's. She was 53 when she died.

"She was a fighter," Leahy said of her mother. "She was extraordinary because she had incredible courage and unwavering faith the entire time she was sick."

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Lung Cancer Alliance, and sisters Kelli Leahy and Dacey McGinty.

What: 'Shine a Light on Lung Cancer' vigil.

When: 7 p.m., Thursday.

Where: Veterans Memorial Field, Springdale.

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