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Free to Breathe

Hugo Rizzo who raises money for research in their memory. Photo from Hugo Rizzo

One Northport resident found inspiration through loss.

Hugo Rizzo lost two brothers to lung cancer, and has since devoted his time to raising money for lung cancer treatment research.

“Mothers don’t deserve to bury their children,” Rizzo said through tears in a phone interview. “I had to tell my mother both times that her sons died. It has been up to me both times. Nobody deserves to get lung cancer.”

Rizzo said his family’s struggle is what makes him so passionate about being involved in cancer research organizations.

Carlos Rizzo who died from lung cancer at 60. Photo from Hugo Rizzo
Carlos Rizzo who died from lung cancer at 60. Photo from Hugo Rizzo

He also touched on the stigma he believes is associated with lung cancer patients, and how he wants to help change that.

“The stigma is that ‘you brought it on yourself,’” Rizzo said, “that it’s a smoker’s disease.” He said he feels this assumption is unfair, and “lung cancer patients share the same fears as colon and brain cancer patients.”

Rizzo said lung cancer is one of the most underfunded cancers in terms of research. According to LUNGevity Foundation, lung cancer is the leading cancer death, but only receives six percent of federal research dollars. That comes out to $2,366 per life lost, compared to $24,167 per life lost to breast cancer, and $14,510 to prostate cancer. LUNGevity also reported 60 to 65 percent of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers, and 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked in their lives.

This year marks the first time Rizzo is part of the organizing committee for non-profit Free to Breathe’s Lung Cancer 5K in New York City and Brooklyn. The event is on Sunday, Oct. 30, starting at 10:30 a.m. at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. Rizzo said he is proud to help and wants to make sure the event is fun.

“This shouldn’t be a morose event, it should be hopeful, hopeful that we find better treatment,” he said.

The event includes a 5K run, walk, and kids run, as well as other activities, including face painting, a magic show and a yoga warm-up. There will also be guest speakers and a heroes wall to help show young children they are just as much heroes for being involved as the superheroes they read about.

Rudy Rizzo, who died from lung cancer at 64. Photo from Hugo Rizzo
Rudy Rizzo, who died from lung cancer at 64. Photo from Hugo Rizzo

Free To Breathe is a nonprofit organization made up of lung cancer survivors, advocates, researchers, health care professionals and industry leaders, all working to raise money for lung cancer research, increase the number of lung cancer patients participating in clinical trials, and build and empower the lung cancer community.

Rizzo said the nonprofit donates 83 percent of the money it raises to research and the development of programs.

“Before I get involved, I make sure [an organization] fits well with me,” he said. “And they give back such a high amount of what they fundraise.”

This year Rizzo said they are expecting between 400 and 500 participants, and are hoping to raise between $45,000 and $60,000. He said they were able to raise more than $40,000 last year.

“This is a movement that is growing,” he said. “If I can do my part to help others, to make sure they don’t go through what my brothers went through, then that is time well invested.”

To find out more information on Free to Breathe’s Lung Cancer 5K or to donate, visit www.freetobreathe.org.