On Sunday August 7, 37-year-old Escondido resident Denette Tanksley participated in the San Diego Free to Breathe 5k Run/Walk that was held at the Embarcadero Marina Park South.
She did so for multiple reasons. First, to help bring awareness to the disease of lung cancer that takes more lives than breast, colon and prostrate cancers combined. Secondly, she wanted to pay tribute to Free to Breathe, a lung cancer research and advocacy organization dedicated to doubling the survival rate of said disease by the year 2022. “It’s just a great organization made up of some wonderful people who are determined to make a difference,” praises Tanksley.
But there was also a very personal motivation and incentive for Tanksley to take part and get involved. You see, her beloved cousin Tim fell victim to the disease at a stunningly young age (31) in August of 2013. What made Tim’s fate all the more difficult to comprehend was the fact that the former Marine did not fit the stereotype of those thoughtto be vulnerable to such an ailment.
Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Tim was tall, strong and very fit. What’s more, he was a non-smoker. Not exactly a prime candidate to be struck down by such a malady. But it is revealing to note that a significant number of those afflicted with lung cancer, somewhere in the neighborhood of 17%, do not smoke cigarettes, cigars or anything else for that matter.
Denette remembers her cousin fondly. “We were really close growing up,” she shares. “We had a lot of fun together, whether it was swimming, playing pranks on each other or just doing a sleepover. He was a fun-loving guy who was a hilarious person to be around. He had this dry sense of humor that always got you to smile. He had a lot of standup comedian in him.”
Tanksley also admired the way her cousin wasn’t affected or deterred by what others may have thought or said. He lived his life to the beat of his own drummer and stayed trueto himself.
Tim’s battle with lung cancer lasted over a year and throughout the ordeal and treatment protocol, Denette recalls his fighting spirit and determination to stay strong. His game mindset resonates with her to this very day.
When Tanksley, a mother of four, walked the 5k this past Sunday, she did so alongside family members and friends. She also had the memory and inspiration of Tim to carry her along. “This is definitely a way to honor and remember him,” Denette says with emotion.
Because of Tim’s experience with the disease, Tanksley has become a passionate advocate and supporter of the Free to Breathe organization. Since 2005, the group has raised over $14 million to support groundbreaking research and educational programs. This year alone, Free to Breathe will be funding two lung cancer research grants totaling over $1.2 million.
In the coming years, Denette plans on being front and center at the local Free to Breathe event. It’s become a passion and a crusade of sorts. The memory of Tim has made it so.