By Hutton Marshall
Jessica Evans leads 2015 Free to Breathe 5K
Relationships may come and go; some, however, come to a more tragic close than others. Some leave a deep impression that lasts a lifetime.
Jessica Evans met Tim Bumbalough in 2011. Both were recent transplants to San Diego, as many are. She came to Mission Valley from Kentucky; he from the Inland Empire. They began dating soon after working at the same trade expo.
“It was weird — I somehow knew that Tim would change my life,” Evans said. “Tim was unlike anyone I had ever met. I enjoyed his honesty and humor.”
Just over a year later, in the summer of 2012, Bumbalough was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at age 31. Despite the grave diagnosis, he fought the cancer for more than a year before passing.
“Tim was the strongest fighter I have ever known, and we lived out those next 379 days together full of happiness, warmth, laughter and love,” she would later write in a blog post titled, “Forever changed by love and lung cancer.” “I’m a completely different person standing here today because of him and what we went through together.”
Bumbalough died just days before San Diego’s 2013 Free to Breathe 5K, a yearly fundraiser for lung cancer treatment, which Evans attended with a large group in the wake of their grief. There, she heard a fellow San Diegan, Julie Cremata, tell a nearly identical story to her own.
“I felt a special connection to that girl, though I was too emotional to speak to her at the event,” Evans recalled.
Seven months later at a local brewery, Evans had a chance encounter with Cremata. She sees this reunion as fate, and began volunteering for Free to Breathe shortly after.
“She asked if I wanted to be involved, and I jumped at the chance, because I had been so desperately wanting to give back and continue Tim’s fight,” Evans said.
“It was awesome to meet someone who was touched by my story,” Cremata said. “I was instantly touched by hers too and knew right away that her passion for spreading awareness would make her a fantastic advocate for Free to Breathe.”
Free to Breathe is a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the national lung cancer survivor rate. Every year, it hosts hundreds of Free to Breathe 5Ks throughout the country. Last year, San Diego’s event raised more than $37,000.
After several years of participation, Evans will lead the charge at this year’s run as its volunteer event chair. Balancing the event planning with her full-time job and side job as a fitness instructor is no easy feat, but Evans says she is used to the chaos. Last year, she volunteered on both the Free to Breathe and Relay For Life event committees. This year, her team Timstrong has already raised $4,344, quadrupling its goal.
“Free to Breathe is worth it,” she said of the time and effort she devotes.
Lung cancer is by far the deadliest iteration of the disease. More people die from lung cancer each year than from prostate, breast and colon cancers combined. The American Lung Association estimates that there will be 158,040 American fatalities due to lung cancer this year.
Despite the startling statistics, lung cancer research remains “grossly underfunded,” Evans said. By spreading awareness about the need for increased funding and clinical trials is paramount, Free to Breath hopes to double lung cancer survival by 2022. Today, even when lung cancer is detected at an early stage (before the cancer spreads to other organs), the survival rate is 54 percent.
Like many other lung cancer victims, Bumbalough, who served as a U.S. Marine, didn’t smoke. Although Evans had only praise for those who treated Bumbalough (Sharp, UCSD, UCLA), she said more public awareness is sorely needed.
“Unfortunately, [lung cancer] is looked upon as a ‘smoker’s disease,’ when in fact, 10 percent to 15 percent of new cases are people who have never smoked,” Evans said. “I think lung cancer is starting to get some public attention — the American Lung Association started Lung Force, and has quite a few celebrities endorsing the cause and sharing their personal lung cancer stories. The more attention, the better opportunity for funding.”
“Jessica was [Bumbalough’s] caregiver and support system so she has a truly unique perspective of the disease,” Cremata said. “Most people think that lung cancer only happens to older people but Jessica and Tim’s story completely shatters that image.”
The “road to the survivorship” gains Free to Breathe hopes to make is certainly a long one, but Jessica’s motivation stems from her grief. She said Bumbalough would never want her to be immobilized by her mourning, so she channels her feelings toward fighting for something positive.
Cremata said Free to Breathe plays an important role in positively channeling emotions after such a loss.
“From the moment I first met my Free to Breathe family, I instantly felt connected because, all of the sudden, there was a group of people who just understood,” said Cremata, who lost her good friend Julia to the disease. “I won’t say being a part of Free to Breathe made the grief easier to get through, because I am still getting through it and it’s never been easy, but being surrounded by the people that are part of the organization has helped to make me a stronger.”
—Contact Hutton Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.