Jill Feldman doesn’t look or act like the victim of a cruel irony.
She lost both her parents and two grandparents to lung cancer before she was 28. Jill saw the stigma surrounding lung cancer (it’s associated so strongly with smoking that people often assume it’s preventable), so she became involved in LUNGevity in 2001. The organization had just lost four of its founders to lung cancer, before it could even have its first benefit.
“Unfortunately, that’s often the way it goes with this disease,” Jill says. “There’s no time for advocacy when 85 percent of patients are diagnosed in Stage IV.”
Working as a volunteer, Jill started the organization’s successful golf outing, and began organizing fundraising walks. Now, the organization hosts hundreds of yearly events across the country. In 2007, when her friend and LUNGevity founder Missy Zagon died at 39, Jill stepped in as president. But just two years later, the non-smoking mother of four was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“I said to my board, ‘I did not approve this,’ ” says Jill when talking about the shock of the diagnosis. “It’s still surreal, but my doctors were closely monitoring me and when a nodule changed, they operated to remove the cancer.”
She left the board last summer, but remains an active volunteer. “The organization needed to outgrow me, and it did,” she recalls.
When we met for this interview, Jill’s doctors had identified a second change in one of her scans. She was scheduled for surgery at the end of September. The nodule they removed was cancerous, but Jill notes, “The good news is that it was small and I lost minimal tissue.” Her surgeons were also able to use a less-invasive technique than originally planned so her recovery should be faster, but probably not fast enough for this busy mom.
“The real urgency comes with my children,” she says. “I don’t want them to go through losing a parent or getting their own diagnosis.” Her children range in age from 9 to 14, and she was about to tell them about her latest scan and her upcoming surgery.
“You have two choices,” she says. “Let the cancer win or do everything in your power to fight it.”