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Waterfront walk to shine light on lung cancer, other lung diseases

The Western New York office of the American Lung Association has become known in the region for its Fight for Air Climb, a fundraising challenge that can gas those who climb 37 flights of Seneca One Tower, giving them the sense of what lung disease can do.

But the association plans to take greater steps this year. It has ramped up the focus on prevention and treatment of lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In March, the office hosted its first Lung Force Expo and on Thursday, June 7, Buffalo Harbor State Park will play home to the inaugural Buffalo Lung Force Walk.

The walk – designed to raise awareness about lung conditions, and money for research and education – is among 50 such events nationwide. Activities at the park, 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd., start at 5 p.m., and the walk starts at 6:30; register on-site Thursday or online beforehand at action.lung.org/buffalowalk.

There is no registration cost or minimum fundraising requirement but those who raise $100 receive a Lung Force T-shirt.

Lung cancer rates have doubled for women during the last four decades, says Kaelyn Gates, development manager with the Buffalo office of the American Lung Association.

"Over the last 40 years, the rate of lung cancer diagnosis has decreased in men by 39 percent but has doubled in women," said Kaelyn Gates, development manager with the regional office.

Q: Can you talk about the impact of lung cancer?

A: Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer of men and women in the United States. It accounts for only 4 percent of all American cancer survivors. An estimated 234,030 Americans will be diagnosed with it this year. We do a lung health barometer every year where we survey people throughout the United States. Only 3 percent of people identify lung cancer as being something that can impact them. [Roughly 20 percent of adults smoke in Erie and Niagara counties.]

We're trying to raise more awareness. Two-thirds of those with a lung cancer diagnosis are former smokers and nonsmokers. Radon also can cause cancer, as can genetic factors and air quality [which could be better in WNY].

Q: Talk about the Lung Force Walk.

A: It'll be about a mile and a half walk along the waterfront. Leading up to the walk start, we'll have food trucks. People will be able to participate in jazzercise to warm up. We focus on our mission pretty strongly at the event. We have different tents that represent our main core of focus: research, advocacy and education.

The research area focuses on what's going on locally and nationwide, something that's really important for lung cancer patients and survivors. In the section on education, we'll provide information on all our local education: the Asthma Education Institute, our Freedom from Smoking course, our Lung Force Expo. It's a daylong education event for patients and caregivers, and there's a track for health care professionals.

As far as advocacy, the biggest thing we're working on is Tobacco 21, an effort to try to get the age raised to 21 for tobacco purchase. Different cities have elected to go smoke-free in parks, so we'll try to raise awareness around air quality and smoking issues.

Q: How much do you hope to raise and where will the money go?

A: We're hoping to raise $60,000. The money will go toward research, education and advocacy around mainly lung cancer, but also asthma, COPD and other lung diseases that impact our area.

Q: You say you're asked often if you or Kelli Hanson, the association development director in Rochester, will participate in the Fight For Air Climb, which you both also help promote?

A: We probably climb the 37 flights about three times on the day of the event. We go up the floors before the climb to make sure everything's clear safety-wise. We clear after all the participants have walked through, and we also do one final climb at the end to make sure there's no garbage. It's quite a work day!

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