KINGSTON, R.I. – September 19, 2013 – It was right as the New Year began in 2009 when Lynne Couture found out that her best friend had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“I’ve been friends with Mary Ann since eighth grade. When she called me and told me it was stage 3, I was shocked,” Couture said. “My first reaction was, ‘what are we going to do?’”
Mary Ann was told that her cancer was inoperable. Even so, Couture and her husband, Tim Straight, a University of Rhode Island alumnus, dove into action, and reached out to their friend Bonnie Addario, a lung cancer survivor and founder of the California-based Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. Addario was able to get Mary Ann, a Pawtucket resident, into Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass., for treatment. After a successful operation and subsequent treatment, Mary Ann’s cancer has been in remission for four years.
“She’s doing well,” said Couture. “We’re just so thankful to Dana-Faber, Mary Ann’s doctors, and of course Bonnie.”
Couture and Straight knew that, as Cumberland natives, they had to bring the generosity of Addario and the Lung Cancer Foundation into the purview of Rhode Islanders. They decided to launch the 2013 Your Next Step is the Cure 5K in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The event will be held on Saturday, October 12.
“The closest road race that the foundation organizes is in Boston,” Couture said. “We wanted to bring it even closer to home.”
The race will be a “Halloween Hustle” 5K, and participants are encouraged to wear costumes to “scare away lung cancer.” The race will begin at the North Beach Pavilion at Narragansett Town Beach, 79 Boston Neck Road. Check-in will be at 11:30 a.m., with a shotgun start at 12:30 p.m. There will be a post-race celebration from 1:30 to 3 p.m with a DJ, kids dash, face painting, overall finisher awards, and craft beer at the finish line. Ernie “D” DiGregorio, former NBA player and Providence College basketball star, will serve as master of ceremonies. Pre-race registration is $25, day-of registration is $30, and youth registration (ages 5-12) is $15.
Straight knew that in order for the 5K to be a success, he had to bring his alma mater into the planning and execution of the road race. “Lynne and I spoke with [URI’s] President [David M.] Dooley about involving the University, and he was interested, so we now have a ‘Team URI,’” he said. “We’re really trying to get the whole URI community involved.”
The California residents are well on their way. They’ve confirmed participation with URI’s mathematics department, Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity and Alpha Xi Delta sorority, and Michael Tammaro, a lecturer in the URI physics department, who designed the road race’s course. And they are expecting even more participants – especially within the Greek community.
“URI Greek life sets philanthropic goals for itself every year,” said Jason Rubin, URI Phi Gamma Delta chapter president. “The Lung Cancer Foundation 5K was a great opportunity to get involved and give back. The brothers in FIJI will be at the race helping out with logistics – handing out water to runners, setting up tables, and making sure everything is ready for the event.”
Rubin was also able to get the URI chapter of Alpha Xi Delta on board. “It’s great that we’re teaming up with a sorority as well. The bigger picture here is to get all of URI Greek life involved by registering to walk or run so that we can really represent URI,” said Rubin. “I’ve approached the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association here on campus about the event, and I’ve asked them to try to get 3 to 5 brothers and sisters from each chapter to participate on October 12. We’re extremely optimistic that there will be a huge turnout from the Greek community. Being asked to wear costumes also adds to the fun factor.”
What makes this event special for FIJI in particular is the fact that Straight is a brother in the fraternity. “We’re very close with our alumni. We speak with them constantly, through phone calls and email, but it’s still extra special when a brother reaches out to us. It just goes to show that URI alumni still care about the University, even after many years.”
Nancy Eaton, chair and professor of the URI mathematics department, was also eager to participate. “The mathematics chairperson before me, Lewis Pakula, died very suddenly last year of lung cancer,” she said. “While I was in California last year as an ACE fellow at San Jose State University, I met with Tim and Lynne to learn about philanthropic funding as part of my fellowship. They told me that they were planning this 5K, and everything fell into place from there. It just made sense to get involved.”
The URI mathematics department has formed its own team in memory of Pakula. “We named our team ‘URI Math Department,” Eaton said. “It’s very straightforward. We wanted the whole department to participate, and we will be very well represented in October. Of course, if someone outside the department wants to join our team, we’d welcome them!”
The URI math department team will also accept donations in lieu of registering to run or walk. “The one year anniversary of Lew’s passing will be October 1, so this event is very timely, “ Eaton said. “Lew was a central member of the department. We are really doing this for him.”
Along with URI’s involvement, local businesses and organizations are committed as sponsors. CVS, GTech, Champlin’s of Narragansett, Prout High School in South Kingstown, Pancho O’Malley’s in Narragansett, and Arrowhead Dental Associates in Charlestown are all confirmed. “CVS will be providing water, granola bars and candy,” said Straight. “GTech has been giving us great advertising in their building. Both CVS and Arrowhead will have teams on race day as well.”
Straight and Couture also expect most of Prout High School to be there. “Molly Guidice, a Prout student, lost her mother to lung cancer last December,” Couture said. “She has been involved with Bonnie’s foundation since then, including serving on our planning committee, and has formed her own team for the 5K.”
Straight and Couture are still looking for participants and volunteers. “We need walkers and runners, and we need donations,” Straight said. “We have a goal of raising $20,000. We’re at a little over $19,000, and we are looking to surpass our goal.”
Addario herself is thrilled with the progress of the event. “The foundation is so happy to be in Rhode Island,” she said. “We need cheerleaders in every state. Tim and Lynne have moved mountains, and I know that the run will be a success.”
Addario was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer in 2004. She underwent treatment, including major surgery, and during that time conducted her own research about her cancer.
“I was horrified,” she said. “The statistics were absolutely awful. Eighty-four percent of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients have never smoked or quit smoking 25 to 30 years ago, and the survival rate is still very low. It’s rampant. Really all you need to do to get lung cancer today is breathe.”
Addario established the foundation in 2006 to raise awareness and funding for lung cancer and lung cancer patients. Since then, the foundation has given back to the community by fundraising, live streaming support group events, inviting guest speakers and experts to talk about the disease, and even developing a patient handbook that will soon be available as a smartphone application.
“We’re putting the power in the patients’ hands by giving them information and making them more and more informed.”
Addario says that because Rhode Island is small, this road race will make a huge statement. “We want this 5K to be an annual event,” she said. “A great turnout will send a message to the entire state.”
Straight and Couture are looking forward to an informative yet fun event. “Lung cancer is sort of this dark secret,” Couture said. “We need to get the word out about it so that the falsehoods out there can be eradicated. But I also think it’s important that it is a fun and family-friendly day.”
Addario agrees. “Lung cancer is incredibly stigmatized. We as a foundation need to become more and more innovative in educating people about this disease. I’m doing what I’m doing for Lynne’s friend Mary Ann, and for all the Mary Anns out there who are battling this illness. If we can help even one person, that’s a huge accomplishment.”
For more information, or to register with “Team URI,” visit: http://tinyurl.com/TeamURIin2013.
The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation was established in 2006 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in California.