THS graduate working for Lung Cancer Alliance
Rachel Bartolo, a 2010 Tecumseh High School graduate, wants to make a difference in people’s lives. This desire led her to Lung Cancer Alliance after she graduated from the University of Michigan(UM) last September.
“I wanted to work for a non- profit that had a big impact,” said Bartolo.
Her women’s studies/women’s health degree from UM also inspired her to find work that focused on the disparities with women. Fighting lung cancer was a perfect fit for Bartolo.
The disease happens to be the second biggest cause of death for women right behind heart disease. Before working with Lung Cancer Alliance, Bartolo was unaware of the reach of lung cancer in society.
“Nobody is really talking about lung cancer and there’s very little funding for research,” Bartolo said. “Nobody knows about the disease. It kills about 160,000 people per year. Most people diagnosed are between the ages of 65 and 75.”
Lung Cancer Alliance, based in Washington, D.C., has a three-tiered approach to educating Americans about lung cancer. “We fund research, we help patients by providing information and we raise awareness about the disease,” Bartolo said.
Ignorance about the prevalence of lung cancer and lack of access to early screening means many Americans, mainly women and minorities, don’t get a diagnosis of the disease until it has moved beyond the early stages.
“Right now we’re seeing most people caught at Stage 4,” said Bartolo. “People think, ‘Lung cancer never can happen to me,’ and it’s devastating when it does.”
Bartolo was surprised to learn that approximately 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer never smoked and 60 percent don’t currently smoke. “Just because you have lung cancer doesn’t mean you smoked,” Bartolo said.
The 157,300 people diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013 is over 100,000 more people than were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 110,000 more people than women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the statistics, research funding in 2012 for breast cancer was $26,398 while only $1,492 was spend on lung cancer research.
“Lung cancer is severely underfunded,” Bartolo said. “We want a comparable level of funding for it.”
Part of Lung Cancer Alliance’s work is done on Capitol Hill, encouraging awareness of lung cancer and pushing for legislation to get lung cancer screening covered by Medicare. Increased public awareness of the disease is another focus of the organization.
“Shine a Light” events planned around the country in November were created as a way for families to remember and honor loved ones diagnosed with lung cancer as well as those who lost their lives to the disease.
The popularity of 5K runs and marathons are another way people can bring awareness of lung cancer as well as raise money for research. Rather than have a specific run to benefit lung cancer, individuals are encouraged to select their own run.
“People can run in any half marathon or marathon to raise money for lung cancer,” said Bartolo, who is running in three half marathons in August, September and October. “I saw running was a good way to raise awareness and raise more funds.”
To raise money towards her goal, Bartolo turned to Tecumseh for help and sponsorship. She received the financial support she expected, but in the process found out how many people’s lives have been touched by lung cancer.
“I sent letters to most of the locally-owned businesses to sponsor a mile for $25,” Bartolo said. “Most people who contributed have lost parents, siblings, or children. I did not realize how prevalent lung cancer was in our community. It was something I was totally unaware of until I started working in this field.”
Bartolo’s personal goal of working for a non-profit organization and making a difference has come true thanks to Lung Cancer Alliance.
“I wanted to do fundraising and development. With Lung Cancer Alliance, I feel like I was able to do what I wanted from the start,” she said. “We are making a measurable impact. I like seeing things are happening. I feel like I, as a person, and we, as an organization, are making a difference. That’s really cool.”
When she is not running half marathons, Bartolo’s daily job for Lung Cancer Alliance is development and operations assistant. “I help donors figure out how they can donate and what they can donate,” she said.
Working in Washington, D.C., has been a great experience for Bartolo. “Everybody has a purpose here,” Bartolo said. “You don’t end up in D.C. by accident. Every weekend there’s something new to do. It’s great. I really enjoy it.”
Anyone wishing to support Bartolo in her goal to raise money for lung cancer can donate at her race page, http://goo.gl/Wj1H5D. More information on the disease can be found at www.lungcanceralliance.org.
Anyone wondering about being at risk for lung cancer should visit www.atriskforlungcancer.org to find out the factors and get guidance on screenings.