As a thoracic nurse navigator at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Caryn Vadseth is an advocate for people with lung cancer.
The cause got a lot more personal in February 2012, when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Jerry Hertkorn underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but died of the disease four months later. He was 71.
Last year, Vadseth organized a contingent of family members, friends and coworkers to participate in Free to Breathe, a 5K Run/Walk and 1-Mile Walk sponsored by the National Lung Cancer Partnership’s Pennsylvania chapter.
“I was already motivated, and now it’s on a more personal level to get out there and spread the word,” she said of the fight against lung cancer.
On Sunday, Herk’s Heroes will again take part in Free to Breathe, hoping to raise money to promote lung cancer research and awareness.
Each year in the United States, more than 228,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer, and almost 160,000 die of the disease. Lung cancer accounts for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths, and takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.
The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is just 16 percent. Only 15 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed before the disease has spread.
Federal research funding for lung cancer is far below that of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, based on deaths per disease.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Hertkorn was an ex-smoker. So was his father, who died of the disease.
Other risk factors include exposure to radon, lung scarring from tuberculosis and genetic predisposition.
There are various symptoms. For Hertkorn, it was shortness of breath. A chest X-ray revealed a spot on his lungs that was ultimately confirmed as cancerous.
“If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer,” Vadseth said.
The eighth annual Free to Breathe event will take place Sunday at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, at 4231 Avenue of the Republic (North Concourse Drive).
Registration and check-in are at 7 a.m., followed by a rally and presentation of fundraising awards at 8. The run starts at 8:30, with the walk kicking off a few minutes later. There will be a kids dash at 9:30 before an awards presentation.
Vadseth described her dad, who was a retired sales and marketing manager, as a family man and a people person. He and his wife Carol were sweethearts at Cardinal Dougherty High School. He was a member of Dougherty’s first graduating class in 1959.
The Hertkorns raised six children in Lawndale. They have 10 grandchildren.
Vadseth is active with the National Lung Cancer Partnership, traveling to Texas last month for a summit that urged attendees to advocate for lung cancer by raising money and lobbying government officials.
“He’s greatly missed,” Vadseth said of her dad, “but I’m fighting for him and all my patients.”
To make a donation, go to participate.freetobreathe.org/goto/carynvadseth1 or participate.freetobreathe.org/goto/herksheroes1
For more information, visit freetobreathe.org ••