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10 years of thanks

  • November 28 2017

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    10 years of thanks

    This year, two Free to Breathe events – Puget Sound, WA and Athens, GA – celebrated 10th anniversaries. Both events were started by dedicated advocates who brought Free to Breathe to their communities in order to honor family members with lung cancer. Their commitment to changing lung cancer outcomes is extraordinary!

    Puget Sound, WA – Julie Drobny

    Judy Cronk Cooley
    Judy Cronk Cooley

    Julie explains that she had never worried about lung cancer because no one in her family smoked. She was shocked when her mother, Judy Cronk Cooley, was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung in 2005 during routine rotator cuff surgery. “I soon found out that many lung cancer diagnoses were stumbled upon accidentally due to the lack of knowledge about the disease and its ‘common cold’ symptoms. Lung cancer is an equal opportunity disease – if you have lungs, you are at risk.”

    Julie learned everything she could about lung cancer. Her research led her to Free to Breathe. Because tumor testing and targeted therapy were still years away, “I watched my mom battling for her life with treatment options that sometimes seemed worse than the disease,” she remembers. When she learned how little funding was available for research, she decided to create an event.

    Puget Sound committee
    Julie (2nd from left) with the Puget Sound planning committee

    “I had a small goal at first,” Julie explains. “Have someone show up for the event!” And people showed up indeed. Julie’s mom was there to cheer on the runners and walkers the first year. Over the past 10 years, over $500,000 has been raised in her memory.

    “I could not have done this without all of my family and friends who gave tirelessly as volunteers and participants from the very beginning,” Julie notes. “In addition, a great committee evolved over time and became the driving force behind this grassroots event. They are part of my extended family. The people I have met on this journey will have a place in my heart forever. ”

    Athens, GA – Tiffany Puckett and Julie Miller

    Tiffany was six months pregnant when she lost her mother to lung cancer in 2003. Since then, she saw her aunt and a good friend – only 27 years old – succumb to the disease. “I guess you could say that those three extremely special women are what motivate me and keep me going,” she says. “It was beyond devastating when my family went through my mother’s death and just as horrible with my aunt. For the parents of my friend, I imagine it all felt very surreal – a feeling I was all too familiar with – and one I truly want no one to ever have to experience.”

    Tiffany became involved with Free to Breathe in 2006, and lung cancer awareness was her platform when she won the Mrs. Georgia pageant in 2008. The inaugural Athens Free to Breathe event was part of her philanthropy for the pageant, and took place the same year.

    Tiffany and Julie
    Tiffany (left) with Julie at a previous event

    Julie read about Tiffany in a magazine article, and felt an immediate connection since she had also lost her mother while she was pregnant. “I had been searching for something to do to increase funding for lung cancer, and there was Tiff in this article talking about Free to Breathe,” she notes. Julie emailed Tiff to ask if she could join her in planning the event.

    “Free to Breathe has given me an outlet for all of my frustrations and sadness about losing my mom way too soon,” she explains. “It is like one big family that knows exactly what you are feeling. The survivors and families that come to the event are such an inspiration.”

    “It’s been awesome seeing how much money has been raised – and how far research and treatment for lung cancer has come – since my mom’s diagnosis,” Julie notes. Tiffany agrees, observing that there's a huge opportunity to create more awareness about lung cancer, which will ultimately enable more funding for research and bring about even better lung cancer outcomes.

    To find an event near you, check this link. If you are interested in joining an existing committee or starting an event in your community, email us at


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