Linda Wortman was preparing to leave for Amsterdam when the longtime flight attendant received a call that would alter not only her flight plan, but her life plan. Results were back from a CT scan, and doctors at Mayo Clinic wanted to see her immediately.
The scan showed that Linda had lung cancer. She was in shock. "Doctor, you have the wrong person," she told the physician who delivered the news. "I never smoked." But as Linda would learn, it's not just smokers who are at risk of developing the disease. In fact, like Linda, 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. "If you have lungs," Linda said in a TedX talk earlier this year, "you can get lung cancer."
Nine years after the call that grounded her, Linda is thriving and on a mission to save lungs and lives. She's advancing that mission in two ways: by raising awareness of the disease and raising funds for research through the Wortman Lung Cancer Foundation, which she launched with her husband (and No. 1 supporter), Jerry. The foundation's main fundraisers are race events called Running Lungs.
Though she was never a runner prior to her diagnosis ("I hated running," she told the TedX crowd), Linda hit the pavement three years later "to prove there is quality of life after cancer." She ran her first 5K in support of a young girl with cancer, and soon after set a goal of running a 5K in every state. She's accomplished that, often coming in first in her age group. Now she's working on knocking out a 10K on every continent. Along the way, Linda also climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro (elevation 19,341 feet) as part of a Mayo Clinic research team. She reached the peak without using supplemental oxygen — and without most of her left lung.
This month, as part of International Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the Wortman's foundation is hosting races in Minnesota, Florida and Arizona. Money raised will fund cancer research at Mayo Clinic. Although lung cancer causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, it is among the least researched cancers. The Wortmans hope to change that. You can join them on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Rochester, Minnesota; Nov. 11 in Jacksonville, Florida; or Nov. 19 in Fountain Hills, Arizona. (Or make it a trifecta.) Registration information and race details are available on the Wortman Lung Cancer Foundation website.