Morris Plains resident Melissa Demianycz will lace up her shoes on Sept. 22 in memory of her mother who passed last year.
She will join many other locals in the fourth annual Free to Breathe Morris County Walk at Horseshoe Lake Park in Succasunna.
“I lost my mom to lung cancer in February 2012. Not only was she my mom, but my best friend, my phone buddy, my shopping companion, the person I went to first for advice, for a recipe, or when I was just sad and needed a pep talk. Lung cancer took all of that from me,” said Demianycz.
Organized by Morris County resident and 10-year lung cancer survivor Jim Dennison and his committee of volunteers, the walk is 3.5 miles.
Demianycz and another Morris Plains resident, Keri Rutkowski, are volunteers this year.
"We [my family] joined the Free to Breathe Walk after my father, Mike Smith, was diagnosed with lung cancer, as a motivation to his fight. After learning the painfully low survival rate and lack of funding to increase it, our only right choice was to become a part of the change,” said Rutkowski.
Rutkowski's group photo, attached to this article, is called "4 the Love of Mike." The photo is from the 2011 Free to Breathe Walk and shows Rutkowski with her father Mike, who has since passed away from lung cancer. To date the "4 the Love of Mike" team has raised $15,000 for the National Lung Cancer Partnership.
Proceeds from the event support the National Lung Cancer Partnership’s programs dedicated to doubling lung cancer survival, a disease that claims more lives in New Jersey than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined, by 2022.
“She (my mother) fought this disease for three and a half years and was able to attend two of the Free to Breathe Morris County walks with us,” said Demianycz. “She stood up with all of the other survivors with her huge smile and her fighting spirit and was so proud that she was helping make a difference.”
The Free to Breathe Morris County Walk is the only Walk in New Jersey that raises funds to advocate for lung cancer patients and their families, educate the public about the leading cancer killer of American men and women, as well as fund vital lung cancer research programs, according to a press release. Lung cancer’s 5-year survival rate is only 16 percent.
“We promised Dad, before he passed away, that we would continue his fight against lung cancer - since we couldn't save him, we've become dedicated to saving others,” said Rutkowski.
After the walk, there will be awards for top fundraisers, food, door prizes and family-friendly fun.
In 2012, community members, teams and local businesses raised more than $42,000. Anyone interested can register for an event, donate online or start a personal fundraising page at www.freetobreathe.org.
- Online (closes Sept. 18) $20
- Mail-In (must be received by Sept. 16) $23
- Event Day (beginning at 10 a.m.) $25
Those who can’t participate in Free to Breathe Morris County can participate in the National Walk Week Nov. 2 – 9. The walk provides a way for everyone to join the movement. Supporters make this walk their own by gathering friends, family and co-workers to walk when and where they choose.