Breath beneath our wings

Supporting lung cancer awareness month

Kilee Jones, Staff Writer

Arlene Vigil holding her son Troy during Christmas time. (Courtesy of Troy Vigil)

With the holidays right around the corner, people are making plans to fly home, do their holiday shopping and spend time around the dinner table with their loved ones. For some, November is more than looking forward to a large feast with our family members. It is a time to remember the loved ones we have lost that won’t be with us for the holidays.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States and worldwide. My partner, Troy Vigil, and his family’s life was turned upside down six years ago when his mother lost her battle to lung cancer. Nov. 2 was Arlene Vigil’s birthday. She would have been 56.

The thing about Arlene is, she wasn’t a smoker. She had never smoked a day in her life. The American Cancer Society estimates that close to 20% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers, and that percentage is growing.

Although I never got the chance to meet Arlene, I learn about her now through her children and her family. Troy said the most important thing to his mom was family and being a good person. Arlene also held education as a priority. She was a high school health teacher for an online academy, California Virtual Academy.

Troy’s brother, Spencer, told me what it was like taking care of his mother when she was sick. He was by her bedside every day keeping her company. They would watch soap operas and eat tuna sandwiches together.

“It affects everyone differently, I was one of the main caretakers during that time which was very difficult,” Spencer said.

He believes that lung cancer awareness is important, especially for women.

“It’s hard for women, they don’t look for lung cancer. If you’re not an active smoker, they don’t look for things like that. They have breast exams to check for breast cancer, but they don’t have anything like that for lung cancer, even though it’s the most common cause of cancer death,” Spencer said.

Arlene was diagnosed in the summer of 2014 and given three years to live. Shortly after her diagnosis, she passed away in April of 2015, the day before her daughter Courtney’s birthday.

I was personally affected by lung cancer when my aunt Juli Filzen was diagnosed in 2019. Juli told my mom her shoulder was hurting and my mom noticed she wasn’t eating much. She mentioned to Juli that

she should go to the doctor. When Juli decided to go to the doctor, she was diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer and lung cancer. My mom faintly recalls Juli saying, “I don’t want to go to the doctor just to find out I have cancer.”

Juli Filzen and her husband Dan on their wedding day in August of 2018. (Courtesy of Melodee Jones)

Juli found out on Sept. 10 and passed away on the 26th of that same month.

My mom described Juli as giving, kind-hearted and goofy. Shiny, expensive, materialistic things didn’t impress Juli. Above anything and everything, she cared about her family and kids.

Lung cancer is more common than we think it is and it needs to be talked about more. The chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 15; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 17.

Troy and Spencer’s older brother, Connor, explains how healthcare workers failed his mother.

“It’s important we notice and become aware of the side effects lung cancer can carry, such as a tireless cough. My mom was treated for everything respiratory for months, but not cancer. This could have been prevented by doctors and my mom could have maybe seen her kids and husband a little longer,” he said.

Arlene was told by multiple doctors that her cough was nothing to worry about.

“These specialists should have been more sensible,” Connor explains.

For the longest time, I would hear about the pain and hurt people have gone through due to lung cancer. But when it personally affected me back in 2019, I was able to fully understand that pain. For this reason, I am fundraising money through November for lung cancer. Every cent given will be donated to LUNGevity in honor of Juli Filzen, Arlene Vigil and every other person we have lost to lung cancer.

LUNGevity is the nation’s largest lung cancer-focused nonprofit. Their goal is to change the outcomes for people with lung cancer through research, education and support. Your support will help drive advances in lung cancer detection and treatment that are saving lives and provide free education and support to all affected by lung cancer.

If your heart feels compelled to give, thank you.

You can donate to my Venmo or Paypal: @ KileeJones. At the end of the month, we will donate all of the funds raised.