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“Free to Breathe” event features yoga, fundraising

Stacy M. Brown | 11/1/2013, 6 a.m.

— If lung cancer got as much news coverage as breast and prostate cancer, Elissa Sachs-Kohen believes that fewer people would meet the same fate as her mother, who died five years ago just10 days after her diagnosis.

When Sachs-Kohen’s mom, Janet Kohen, died at age 64, the Baltimore resident immediately jumped into action seeking to help others. She has dedicated her life to making lung cancer a national priority and is on a mission to advocate early detection and an eventual cure.

Sachs-Kohen has been busy lately organizing the fifth annual Free to Breathe Baltimore event, which takes place at the B&O Railroad Museum in on Sunday, November 10, 2013.

The event this year features a yoga session, open to all experience levels, beginning with gentle yoga and becoming more challenging. The 108-minute yoga marathon was conceived from the idea that, in yoga, the number 108 represents wholeness of the individual, universe and life. Organizers have invited experienced yoga instructors who will circulate throughout the practice to assist and guide participants.

“It’s a really important event. Lung cancer by most measures is the worst cancer a person can have,” Sachs-Kohen said. “But, it receives the least amount of funding and the least amount of attention.”

Each year, more than 228,000 people are diagnosed in the United States with lung cancer and nearly 160,000 die of the disease, according to officials at the American Cancer Society. Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined and accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths. According to officials, one in 14 U.S. citizens will be diagnosed with lung cancer.

Sachs-Kohen says it’s important to visit a doctor if an individual is experiencing blood when they cough or spit; recurring respiratory infections; enduring cough that is new or different; aches or pain in the shoulder, back or chest; trouble breathing; hoarseness or wheezing; and exhaustion, weakness or loss of appetite.

Officials from the American Cancer Society say other symptoms could include swelling in the neck and face, difficulty swallowing and weight loss.

“I had no idea that my mom had lung cancer and I was 37 years old,” Sachs-Kohen said. “I was shocked. I knew I couldn’t bring mom back, but I began to look for ways to help other people, and I was really looking for an event that I could go to and ‘Free to Breathe’ is that event.”

The National Lung Cancer Partnership started the Free to Breathe event series with a 5K run and walk in Philadelphia in 2006. Since then, the event series has raised more than $5.6 million with all of the net proceeds directly funding programs to help those affected by lung cancer.

In support of the event last year, local community members and businesses helped to raise more than $30,000. Sachs-Kohen and others are hoping this year’s event will eventually help to double lung cancer survival.

“The community has been wonderful,” Sachs-Kohen said. “They’ve come out to honor and show support to people they don’t even know. To see the faces of so many people and how meaningful this is, really means a lot to me. Many come out just for the yoga, but they also do it for their loved ones and most of all, for lung cancer.”

For more information about the “Free to Breathe” event, to register or to make a donation or volunteer, visit: www.freetobreathe.org.