She first learned of the annual Tacoma Free to Breathe Run/Walk last September, but Margaret Grieve-Fent couldn’t participate.
“It was too soon,” she said. “I was a mess.”
Next Saturday (Sept. 27), no less heartbroken, Grieve-Fent will do the 5-kilometer walk to bring awareness – and donations – to the fight against lung cancer.
It’s a personal fight for this Puyallup resident who teaches French at Rogers High School.
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“I’m walking with a group, Walking Widows and Friends,” she said. “This year I wanted to do something for the cause. People don’t deserve to die from this.”
Yet most who get lung cancer do. Grieve-Fent’s husband, Patt , was one of them.
Diagnosed at age 54, Fent was cancer-free nine months after. When the cancer returned after a few months, it was aggressive. On Dec. 4, 2012 – less than two weeks before the couple’s 28th wedding anniversary – he died at age 56.
Grieve-Fent watched her husband fight to the end.
“Patt didn’t want to leave,” she said. “He loved me and our two daughters. I didn’t want to lose him.”
Before her husband’s death, she learned a great deal about the disease.
“I’ve learned that for those diagnosed with lung cancer, the survival rate five years out is 16 percent,” Grieve-Fent said.
Since his death, she’s learned more.
“I need to make a difference where I can. It’s too late for Patt but not for those who have just been diagnosed – or those who haven’t been yet,” Grieve-Fent said. “I’d like to help people become more aware of the early-warning signs.
“We weren’t, and it could have helped …”
For one thing, Grieve-Fent said, the public perception that only smokers, usually heavy smokers, get lung cancer is false.
“Sixty percent of cases diagnosed now are non-smokers,” Grieve-Fent said. “Patt was a light smoker. He never smoked at home, didn’t smoke at work. For him, it was probably a combination of things.
“He worked with lot of stains and paints and fumes as he built staircases. Patt’s mom had cancer, his brother had cancer.”
Grieve-Fent hasn’t made lung cancer her only focus, but it’s hard to be unaware of it when there are cases around her, she said. A junior high teacher in the Puyallup School District is battling it now.
Grieve-Fent’s daughters, Ashley, 28, and Allison, 24, remain in close contact despite being away pursuing their own careers.
“Ashley is at UCLA going for her PhD, and Allison is in South Korea, teaching English,” Grieve-Fent said. “We Skype on weekends.”
Teaching keeps her occupied, and her 10th through 12th grade students continue to amaze and amuse her. In the past 18 months, she has cultivated new friendships, joined a book club, done a little traveling.
“It’s been lonely, and I’ve tried to find meaning in my activities,” Grieve-Fent said. “I’ve become more active in pushing for new cancer treatments. Everyone goes through stuff. I’m not unique.”
She remembers Patt, six months before his death, pushing himself to be part of Relay for Life.
“He wanted to walk to raise money to fight cancer,” Grieve-Fent said. “No one was sure he was up to it. Patt walked four laps with his oxygen tank.”
His wife and daughters walked with him.
Next weekend, Grieve-Fent will walk the Free to Breathe course with friends — and perhaps meet a few new ones.