Lung disease event raises awareness, promotes hope in Springfield

Attendees of the Thursday's "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" awareness event at COHatch symbolically shine lights to honor those in the fight or who have fought against lung cancer. Photo by Brett Turner
Caption
Attendees of the Thursday's "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" awareness event at COHatch symbolically shine lights to honor those in the fight or who have fought against lung cancer. Photo by Brett Turner

‘Everybody is a hero just by being here,’ doctor says.

A large inflatable set of lungs that could have been mistaken for a bounce house from a distance was set up in front of COHatch early Thursday evening as the sun began to set.

The display was hardly a play thing as it labeled the signs of lung disease and the damage that can be done by smoking and vaping and not getting it checked out. A few feet away were signs of hope for anyone who has lung disease, wants to prevent it or has survived it at Mercy Health-Springfield’s “Shine a Light on Lung Cancer” event.

While breast, prostate and colon cancer have higher awareness profiles, lung cancer is more deadly, accounting annually for more than 25% of cancers. Adding to the problem is those affected often wait until it’s too late, which prompted Dr. Soumya Neravetla, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, to make it a bigger priority in Springfield, tying it to Lung Cancer Awareness Month to promote early detection.

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The event offered a variety of vendors, giveaways and interactive activities including a painting station inspired by the art of a lung cancer survivor, information and food. COHatch’s Market Bar even worked with Neravetla to create special cocktails to support the event.

While most attendees were adults, even the youngest visitors were entertained and informed. Cousins Reid Crable, 7, and Karlson Westfall, 4, got to paint and left with coloring pages and cookies and explored the inflatable lung exhibit.

They were fascinated by the various colors and took away a valuable lesson. When asked what smoking could do to his lungs, Reid pointed and responded “Turn it into that” – pointing at black lungs, something both cousins said they want to avoid.

Springfield lung cancer survivors who beat the disease under local care shared their stories including Beverly Mettert, 80. She was first diagnosed in 2003 and was motivated by getting back to doing things she loved like waterskiing on Buck Creek, something she did this past summer.

“Thank God I’m doing well thanks to the people at the cancer center,” she said while wearing a white ribbon pin signifying lung cancer awareness.

Ernest Higgenbotham is six years cancer-free and was surrounded by family. Although he uses an oxygen tank, every breath he can take is precious and he credits faith, treatment and the thought he would still be around for helping him.

“Stop it!” is his advice to smokers.

Guest speakers included State Senator Niraj Antani, who is vice chair of the state senate health committee and spoke about work to battle this and other health issues at the state level, and Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland.

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Copeland shared his family members were heavy smokers who suffered health problems as a result and how grateful he was that his smoking a pipe lasted just three days.

“We have wonderful physicians here and we thank them for their services. The message is clear: We have good doctors but we encourage people to not smoke so they won’t have to see them,” Copeland said.

The event was aided by a grant from the Gala of Hope Foundation, which Is dedicated to helping fight all forms of cancer over 14 counties. This was the first intentional grant toward fighting lung cancer, and foundation executive director Jeff Brock was glad to see the results.

“Education and early treatment are the keys. This is why we wanted to partner with Mercy Health and Dr. Neravetla,” he said.

One of the event’s highlights was gathering in front of the inflatable lungs where the attendees took lighted pens to actually shine a light in tribute to those affected by lung cancer. While a beautiful moment, Neravetla would prefer a time when you’d never have to do it again.

“We’ve got the start of a great story here. Everyone is a hero just by being here. But we have to get to happily ever after to change the story.”

For more information on lung cancer screenings, contact the Mercy Health Springfield Cancer Center.

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