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SF Native Runs Cross-Country to Raise Lung Cancer Awareness

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Kelcey Harrison (front) is joined by the UC Berkeley women's crew team on the last leg of her run. Photo by Kevin Costello

Friend was inspired by Cal athlete’s lung cancer battle

By Brittany Harrison
Contributing Writer

What can you do with your lungs? A lot.

That’s what my sister, Kelcey Harrison, set out to prove when she left New York City on July 30 to run across the country to San Francisco.  

She completed the journey, known as “The Great Lung Run,” on December 1, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and arriving in Crissy Field along with more than 100 supporters, who joined in for the last few miles of her journey.

Let’s break it down: Using her own two feet, Kelcey ran from New York City to San Francisco in four months, a 3,500-mile run, covering an average of 30-40 miles daily.

Why did Kelcey, a 24-year-old Harvard grad, run and walk a marathon per day? To raise awareness and funds for lung cancer patients.  She was inspired by her dear friend Jillian Costello, a 22-year-old nonsmoker and superstar student-athlete (varsity crew) at the University of California, Berkeley, who passed away after fighting stage IV lung cancer throughout her senior year of college.  

Kelcey and Costello, both San Francisco natives, met in Kindergarten and remained close friends over the years.

“My mission is to honor Jill’s memory and achieve her dream of beating lung cancer for all lung cancer patients — big time,” said Kelcey. “It’s important to share the message that anyone, even young athletes like Jill, can get lung cancer.

“I hope that by running across the country and showing what my lungs can do, I inspire people to join the fight against lung cancer — the most deadly form of cancer in both men and women worldwide. My ultimate goal is to help all people with lung cancer. That was Jill’s dream, and we intend to finish it.”

Kelcey teamed up with the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and its young people’s movement, Jill’s Legacy®, a subsidiary of the foundation. She hopes to draw attention to the most deadly form of cancer and raise money for research.

So what does this mean for health professionals like us?

Beware of biases — both from the community and the provider standpoints — that lung cancer is a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking. One in five women who get lung cancer will be non-smokers. This is important considering that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, accounting for 30 percent of all cancer deaths.

Unfortunately, the majority of lung cancer patients are diagnosed so late that they die within one year.

“The Great Lung Run,” has been documented on Twitter (@greatlungrun), Facebook, Vimeo (vimeo.com/45457761), the BJALCF (lungcancerfoundation.org/) and Jill’s Legacy (jillslegacy.org) websites.

During her run, Kelcey asked the daily question, #WhatCanYourLungsDo?, on Twitter, prompting her friends and followers to join the fight against lung cancer.

She has received a tremendous response, with children as young as 7 getting involved. Families across the country hosted Kelcey as she passed through their towns and many have run alongside her in support.

But Kelcey insists this is only the beginning of honoring Jillian Costello and all other lung cancer patients. What’s next? Maybe running around the world?

Now that you have completed your journey, what can people do to continue to support your cause?

Continue educating others about lung cancer and how important that it is for us to pay attention to the No. 1 cancer killer in the world. We need to be more aware of this devastating disease and to concentrate our focus on finding a cure, better technology for early detection, and a more supportive community for patients.


RAPID FIRE Q & A

Because Kelcey is also my younger sister, I got to ask her some rapid-fire burning questions that others have asked me about her crazy adventure.

Playlist favorites?
West Coast by Coconut Records, Ho Hey by the Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Eric Church. Taylor Swift ... it’s just too catchy not to like, Zac Brown Band. So many more amazing songs in the library, I just can’t name them all!

How many pairs of shoes did you go through?
Twelve.

What’s your favorite on-the-road snack?
Rise Bars, fresh fruit, or oatmeal raisin walnut Clif Bars.

How many hours of sleep per night?
I was always in bed by 9 p.m., and usually fell asleep pretty quickly thereafter. Wake up time was anywhere between 5 and 6 a.m.

Hottest and coldest temperatures that you ran through?
Several 100-degree days in August through Pennsylvania and the Kentucky/Indiana area. The coldest were several 20-degree days in New Mexico and later through Flagstaff, Arizona.

How many states did you cross?
Fifteen.

How much money has been raised so far?
Almost $160,000.

Now that you have completed your journey, what can people do to continue to support your cause?
Continue educating others about lung cancer and how important that it is for us to pay attention to the No. 1 cancer killer in the world. We need to be more aware of this devastating disease and to concentrate our focus on finding a cure, better technology for early detection, and a more supportive community for patients. 


Brittany Harrison is a first-year medical student.

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