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Lung Cancer Research Foundation

Intro: Meet Reina Honts

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If you have lungs, you can have lung cancer.

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Let that sentence sink in and, then, read it again: If you have lungs, you can have lung cancer.

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Contrary to what you might think, lung cancer isn’t a smoker’s disease. While smoking can be a factor, every year, over 20,000 people are diagnosed who have never smoked. “Everyone pictures crotchety old men and women sitting in their chair, with their pack of Marlboros, but that’s just not the case,” says our #VBGIVESBACK woman of the quarter, Reina Honts. “More and more young, non-smoking women are getting lung cancer; a four-year-old was just diagnosed.”

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Honts would know—the longtime fashion exec was diagnosed herself at the age of 49. She isn't a smoker and, had it not been for a moment of serendipity, she might not even have been tested. At the time, Honts certainly didn’t fit into insurance parameters for a screening: She wasn’t between the ages of 55 and 74, she didn’t smoke a pack a day for 30 years or more, nor had she quit smoking within the last 15 years. But she did have a mom who had lost the battle to lung cancer and so, when, by chance, she saw a bus ad for lung cancer screenings, she went to her doctor and pushed for a CT scan. The early detection saved her life: The five-year survival rate is upwards of 60% versus 6% for late-stage diagnosis.

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We're proud to name Honts and her cause, the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, as our latest #VBGIVESBACK partner. The organization, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary, has been on the forefront of funding groundbreaking research in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, with the ultimate goal of a cure. And this funding is critical: Lung cancer kills twice as many women as breast cancer, three times as many men as prostate cancer. Learn more in our Q&A below—but first, before we jump in, we have a message for you, VB Edit readers, courtesy of Honts: Consider early screenings, please. Her story could be your story.

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"We can make a difference," says Honts. "We can change people's lives."

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Q&A

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Why is this cause an important one for you?
I've been surrounded by cancer. My mom passed away from lung cancer shortly after she was diagnosed, within 10 months. My best friend's mother, who took me under her wing after that, also died from cancer, although a different kind. So, early on, my experience of cancer was always connected to death. Then another friend was diagnosed—and she survived. I started to see that things could change. Medicine works; research works. There was a mental shift for me, from cancer-death to cancer-survival.
When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, that was my point of view: I'm a fighter, my kids need me, I'm not going to have the same outcome. I knew I was going to have a different trajectory and I wanted to pay that forward to other people. Being a part of LCRF has really allowed me to do that. We can make a difference. We can change people's lives.

How did you become involved?
I met Kimberly Kravis [Vice Chair of LCRF] a few months after I had my surgery; mutual friends put us in touch. Both our moms had cancer and we connected on so many levels. I could tell how passionate she was about LCRF and its work. The next thing you know, I joined the board. I realized that, as someone who has gone through lung cancer, I have an important point of view. It all really happened naturally.

Reina Honts at the 2019 Lung Cancer Awareness Luncheon, photographed by Sylvain Gaboury/PMC/PMC

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“Cancer no longer means death; there are more promising options.”

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How pervasive is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide—it kills twice as many women as breast cancer, three times as many men as prostate cancer—and yet it's one of the most under-funded cancers.

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The stereotype that just smokers are affected…
Yes, smoking is the leading risk factor, but there's also a stigma with lung cancer because of it. Up to 65% of people who get lung cancer are non-smokers at the time of diagnosis—and that's a huge number. If you have lungs, you can have lung cancer. It can be because of asbestos, air pollution, radiation, certain metals or chemicals… Just think of all the people on 9/11. I'm worried about the younger generation and vaping, too. More and more young, non-smoking women are getting lung cancer; a four-year-old was just diagnosed. So it's really important that people don't equate lung cancer with smoking. People who have never smoked account for between 20,000 and 30,000 lung cancer diagnoses every year.

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Can you tell us about the scope of what LCRF does?
The primary focus is funding the research to improve lives. LCRF funds early-career investigators, research that is high risk and but high reward. We are focused on the best and brightest in the field and have a scientific advisory board that goes through a really diligent process to identify the projects we want to fund. This year we received a record number of applications, over 200.

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What does "early-career investigators" mean?
Those are researchers who are getting their feet wet in the lung-cancer space. For many of them, it's one of their earlier, if not first, projects. Getting a grant from us can cement them in this space. The discoveries they make from the initial research we fund is what continues them on their careers. One of these researchers, who received his first grant from LCRF, for example, just discovered a new cell state within tumors that could combat regression. Another doctor, who was working with small-cell lung cancer, discovered a cure in mice. To date, LCRF has provided 370 research grants totaling nearly $34 million, the largest amount provided by an organization dedicated to funding lung cancer research. Without these grants, we're losing doctors who may be interested in this field of study.

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Honts, center, at LCRF's Strides for Life walk in 2019

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Could you share any other highlights?
One of the projects we're working on is the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium, an association of brilliant lung-cancer specialists across the country in prominent healthcare institutions, currently on a fourth study, LCMC4, the goal of which is to screen for ten actionable lung cancer mutations. LCMC2, an earlier study, led to biomarker testing becoming the standard of care, which is a big deal. This means when a patient receives a lung cancer diagnosis, one of the first things to be done is to test tumors to figure out what type of lung cancer you have. Based on those results, your doctor can provide targeted therapy, if appropriate. It's a whole new way of attacking cancer. It doesn't cure the cancer, but it allows you to live with the cancer and keep it at bay so, if you relapse, you have a second and third line of treatment.
With my mom, there was none of this. You had chemotherapy or radiation and that was it. Everybody's lung cancer was treated exactly the same way, even though there are different mutations. All lung cancers are not the same. LCRF funded the developments that led to these next-generation therapies, and people now are living longer, fuller lives. Cancer no longer means death; there are more promising options.

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What other support does the organization provide?
LCRF also works directly with people diagnosed with lung cancer. We help with resources, host webinars and workshops, and offer a Lung Cancer Support Line. We want to make sure patients can make educated decisions about their own treatment plans, whether you're newly diagnosed or living with lung cancer. We take the science and break it down for you.
A new initiative we've started this year is virtual gatherings where we bring together experts in the field for a Q&A with patients. Not everyone has access to the best oncologists—this gives them that opportunity and helps them connect to other people who are going through something similar. Facing a lung cancer diagnosis can be very isolating, especially during a pandemic, and this has helped build a real community.
But I would say funding research is 90% of what we do. I'm proud of that fact. LCRF brings together the best doctors and scientists in the world to really move the needle. That's why I wanted to be a part of it. I remember Kimberly asking me, when we first met, what I would want to see the organization do. It's about finding a cure. I think about my mom and what her life could have been like—for me, that's the biggest focus and makes the biggest difference. There are so many ways to think about lung cancer. Instead of sadness, let's focus on the cure.

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“We can make a difference. We can change people's lives.”

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Any advice to share for women going through lung cancer?
Everyone's situation is different, but I think honesty is the best policy. I tell them my experience—surgery was the hardest thing for me—and to focus on what the positive outcome can look like. The most important thing is to share your story—be open and don't be embarrassed.
Also, don't let cancer take over your life. Another friend of mine, whom I met through my cancer journey, is nervous that her cancer is going to come back. You can't control that, so turn this energy into something positive, or try to help someone else. Because then your experience with cancer becomes something different; it can do good.

And advice for friends and family who want support a loved one?
The best thing you can do is be positive. And get involved to increase awareness and visibility about lung cancer—that's a really powerful way to make an impact.

The Honts family

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