In the face of losing a loved one, one has the choice to be overcome by grief or to turn heartbreak into motivation and perhaps prevent someone else from experiencing that loss.
For Jane Schuster it was the latter, as this year she organized the fourth annual Free to Breathe 5K Run and Walk and Memorial Walk on Oct. 19 to raise awareness and funds for the National Lung Cancer Partnership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to doubling lung cancer survival by 2022.
Schuster, who grew up in southwestern Sarpy County, said her desire to partner with the National Lung Cancer Partnership came five years ago when she lost her mother, Phyllis Roseland, to lung cancer.
“It was just 10 months after she was diagnosed,” Schuster said.
Rather than losing herself in grief, Schuster sought a positive outlook.
“I wanted to do something,” she said.
Shortly afterwards, she began working with the partnership by exploring ways to become an advocate. Her first goal was to have the State of Nebraska declare the month of November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which she said she accomplished fairly quickly.
Still, she said she wanted to do more, which is when she became the organizer for the Free to Breathe Run and Walk.
During the first year, Schuster said the run and walk raised more than $30,000 with nearly 300 people. Last year she said the race raised more than $64,000 with more than 660 participants.
“We doubled in two years,” she said. “I’m kind of awestruck by the growth.”
She said she hopes to see the numbers double yet again, raising more awareness while providing a comfortable and supportive place for those affected by lung cancer.
“Lung cancer is such a silent killer,” Schuster said.
Often times there is a stigma associated with this form of cancer, she said, as many people instinctively assume those with the cancer habitually smoke cigarettes.
“It’s not just a smoker’s disease — anyone with a lung can get it,” she said.
Schuster said the event provides a safe, comforting and family-like atmosphere, with games and activities for children, a health fair, the 5K run and walk for participants and the Memorial Walk, which starts off the day.
She said the Memorial Walk provides an opportunity to honor and support those struggling with lung cancer as they lead the walk.
“That’s what’s most important for me,” she said.
The race will begin at Miller’s Landing, 151 Freedom Park Road in Omaha, and will follow the riverfront trail towards Heartland of America Park in downtown Omaha before cutting back to the starting point.
To register, go to FreetoBreathe.org/omaha. The cost to run is $20 for adults and $15 for children ages 10 and under and is due by Oct. 16. Participants can register the day of the event at 8 a.m. with an additional $5 late fee.
Schuster said she is passionate about this event and strongly encourages anyone affected by lung cancer to attend or participate.
“I can’t bring my mom back,” she said, “but I can certainly impact others in her memory.”