Cancer survivor focuses on research, fundraising
It’s been almost five years since Deep Creek resident Tom Cappiello was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, a veritable death sentence for nearly everyone who contracts the disease.
And as the anniversary of that day approaches and Cappiello continues to live cancer free, he knows he is in an increasingly valuable position to raise awareness for a disease that is mostly ignored.
“You could say I’m cured, but anyone with that diagnosis will be never be completely cured,” Cappiello said, adding, “I’m part of a very special group. People generally don’t survive.”
About 200,000 people each year are diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States, based on 2008 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, with over 150,000 deaths attributed to the disease. In comparison, breast cancer claims about 40,000 live annually, according to the CDC.
But, lung cancer carries with it a stigma, Cappiello said, and there is little to no research or funding available. As lung cancer is generally associated with a lifelong smoker, the reality, Cappiello said, is that people who have never smoked or quit smoking long ago are just as susceptible, adding that 95 percent of all people diagnosed with lung cancer eventually die.
“There are 70 million people in the United States who have quit smoking and think they’re out of the woods. They’re going to come down with the disease and find there has been no research done to prevent it,” he said. “It’s seen as a disease you brought on yourself.”
The lack of research and available funding prompted Cappiello to start the Free to Breathe Southwest Florida 5K Run-Walk and Memories Walk, a family-friendly event that brings the entire community together to inspire hope and create change for everyone impacted by lung cancer.
Entering its fourth year, Cappiello, a onetime columnist for the Sun’s Feeling Fit section, is hoping the event will attract 1,000 people and raise $100,000 to funnel toward research. He feels there’s a direct relationship between research dollars and survival, but since there are so few survivors, there are hardly enough voices to raise the type of awareness to the level of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which supports breast cancer research.
Cappiello started a blog in 2010 to shine light on his survival. He plans to publish it as a book soon. The blog chronicled his treatments, the impact the disease had on his family, and how he hoped his plight would bring attention to those fighting the disease.
As a survivor and advocate, he said he felt a certain obligation to blaze a trail where none has really existed before, especially in Florida, where no fundraising existed specifically for lung cancer.
“We have to change people’s attitudes about the disease. We have to get people to talk about the issue and educate themselves,” he said.
The event is Nov. 10 at Charlotte Sports Park. All proceeds help support the Florida Lung Cancer Partnership’s research, education and awareness programs, according to Cappiello. For more information on the event, visit freetobreathe.org.