Two weeks ago, I received an email from my friend Isabella de la Houssaye asking me to join her friends and family on a race team participating in the Pennington-based Watershed Institute’s “Solstice Run” to protect and restore clean water. The event would be virtual – each registrant would commit to walking one mile or running 5K, 10K or 15K.I hadn’t heard from her for a while, but she had a couple of good reasons for being out of touch.
Isabella falls into that 65% “never-smokers” category with lung cancer, and she is in Stage IV. The disease, which before diagnosis spread from her lungs to her brain and spine, and the demanding treatment regimen, however, have failed to stop her participation in ultra-endurance athletic events, including: riding her bike across the country; running marathons (generally ultra marathons); climbing mountains (most recently the peak of Aconcagua in the Andes); and competing (biking, swimming, running) in triathlete Ironman competitions.
In addition, the 56-year-old Lawrence Township resident is a wife, a mother to five children, a former international lawyer with degrees from Princeton University and Columbia University Law School, and the co-owner of Material Culture, an internationally respected auction house and emporium of art, antiques, crafts, furnishings, and architectural elements with a mission to also a vehicle for cultural education. It takes my breath away just to write about and contemplate the pace and scope of her life and accomplishments. For Isabella, however, it is simply existential.
“My cancer was stable for 18 months before it started progressing last fall. I had radiation but fully expected that when I went for my scans in February of 2020 there would be further progression. To my great surprise, the cancer was stable, and I told my oncologist that between now and my next scans in 9 weeks I will bike across America to raise awareness for lung cancer. He laughed and I know he thought I was crazy—but I went out and did it.”
• Lung cancer takes the lives of 158,000 Americans a year, making it the leading cause of cancer deaths by far.
• The risk of dying from lung cancer is 82% greater than the risk of dying from breast cancer.
• Anyone can get lung cancer, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or smoking history and increasingly people who have never smoked are being diagnosed with lung cancer.
• Only 35% of lung cancer patients are current or former smokers.
• One in 16 people in the U.S. can expect to receive a lung cancer diagnosis. That’s one out of every 14 men, and one out of every 17 women.
• Only 19 percent of all people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive five years or more, but if it’s caught before it spreads, the chance for five-year survival improves to 55%.
• Only six percent of federal government dollars spent on cancer research are spent on lung cancer research. Lung cancer research needs an investment that matches the impact of the disease.