April 16, 2013

Volleyball tourney to benefit lung-cancer research


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Lung cancer continues to be a devastating disease, gaining only small advances in survival rates over the past few decades.

Local residents will have an opportunity to fight back against this most deadly of all cancers during an upcoming fundraiser Saturday, May 4, at the CVPH Wellness Center at PARC.

During Spike for Life, area volleyball enthusiasts will compete in a daylong tournament with all the proceeds going toward the National Lung Cancer Partnership for lung-cancer research and awareness.

“I really wanted to bring a lung-cancer awareness event to the North Country,” said Brian Brubaker, event chair for National Lung Cancer Partnership. “I’ve been personally touched (by lung cancer), losing two family members and, most recently, a friend of mine who passed away three days after Christmas.”

More than 150,000 Americans die from lung cancer each year, a sad statistic that outdistances colorectal cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer combined.

“The current survival rate (for people diagnosed with lung cancer) is 16 percent,” Brubaker said. “That rate has increased only 1 percent over the past several decades.”

The major deterrent to improved treatment results in a lack of consistent funding, he added, a fact that he has personally chosen to correct.

“Community-awareness events like Spike for Life play an important role in spreading awareness to the community and in raising vital research dollars needed to help find a cure,” he said.

For lung-cancer patients like Dawn McCoy, Spike for Life offers a ray of hope that can sometimes be elusive for people battling the unforgiving disease.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” she said of the upcoming fundraiser. “I wish we’d have more events like this, so people can know more about the prevalence of lung cancer across the nation and locally.”

McCoy was 56 years old when she was first diagnosed with stage 4 small-cell lung cancer last July. Doctors found a 4-inch tumor in her lung and acknowledged that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, bones and spine.

“I had just graduated from college and thought I had the world by the tail,” she said of the days leading up to the diagnosis. “A month later, my world was crashing down.”

McCoy, who is from New Russia, had returned to college after a 15-year career as a private-duty home-health aide. She earned her degree in computer graphics and design from North Country Community College, earning a 3.98 grade-point average.

But the statistics she learned following the diagnosis were as severe as one could imagine.

“They gave me a 5 to 10 percent chance of making it through chemotherapy,” she said.

Understandably distraught over that news, McCoy almost chose to forego the treatments and accept the fate she had been given, but she entered chemo treatments with all the hope she could muster, and her outlook dramatically improved within months.

“On Oct. 4, 2012, I was in complete and full remission,” she said of the news that at that point she had beaten the odds.

Doctors kept a close tab on her cell counts, however, and subsequent results showed that she had come out of remission by the middle of March 2013.

She is now undergoing two types of chemotherapy in an effort to regain control over the disease.

“The only thing they told me (about her statistical chances for this second round of therapy) was that it would be a harder fight the second time around,” she said. “My doctor told me that it would probably come back, but I was hoping to prove him wrong again.”

McCoy openly acknowledges that she believes years of smoking cigarettes was directly related to developing lung cancer, though Brubaker points out that lung cancer does also affect people who do not smoke. McCoy has since quite smoking.

McCoy, who will be keynote speaker during the upcoming volleyball tournament, remains hopeful that she will once again overcome the odds, but also praises the efforts of people such as Brubaker who vow to make lung cancer a thing of the past.

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HOW TO HELP The Spike for Life volleyball tournament will be held Saturday, May 4, at the CVPH Wellness Center at PARC. The individual fee for participants is $25 per person. Teams can be male, female or co-ed. All proceeds go to the National Lung Cancer Partnership. The public is also welcome to attend the daylong event. To register, visit the Wellness Center on New York Road or call the center at 324-2024.