by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
On January 25, Capitol Hill resident Laura Shanks and 20 members of her family will climb the stairs to the top of Rainier Tower in downtown Seattle. Many others will join them as participants in Seattle’s Fight for Air Climb, a unique charity event with the American Lung Association. The climb is part of a national campaign to raise funds and awareness about lung health issues in the United States, asking those who have strong, healthy lungs to push themselves for the sake of those who don’t.
Tammi Shanks, Laura’s mother, was awaiting a lung transplant at the University of Washington Hospital when she passed away in 2008. She had been fighting idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a form of lung cancer, since her diagnosis in 2001. Tammi and her family chronicled the last year of life on a website called CaringBridge (Tammi’s journal on the site is still available).
Laura was an active source of support for her mother throughout her illness. In the years since Tammi’s passing, Laura has been a participant in cancer-related charities, joining the ALA as their volunteer social media manager for the Fight for Air Climb in Seattle.
“It’s been really rewarding for me, and really helpful in my healing process,” Laura says of her time interacting with other ALA supporters. “It’s very helpful to hear that there are people who share my experience. It’s very inspiring to me that people are so interested and so eager to help. It’s not everyday you feel that support.”
In the Fight for Air Climb, the ALA hopes to raise $54,000 in Seattle. As of the writing of this article, the organization lists just under $31,000, a combination of pledges and registration fees from teams and individuals participating in the climb. The Shanks family has taken the name Tammi’s Team, having already pledged $2,037. The only team with a higher pledge is the Fidelity Investments corporate team, currently at $2,170.
The ALA is a non-profit organization currently celebrating its 110th year of operations. Originally formed to support people suffering from tuberculosis, the ALA now focuses on modern issues like lung cancer, asthma and smoking. The organization offers grants and research awards to further medical treatments of these conditions, and promotes lung health for people of all ages. The Fight for Air Climb aims to get every climber from the ground floor to the top of Rainier Tower, a total of 31 floors. Climbers are welcome to take multiple laps, taking the tower two or even three times if able.
“I’m not the most athletic person, but I’ve been taking breaks every day to climb a bit. I’m gonna have to hit it hard in the next couple weeks,” said Laura.
Awareness about lung health can literally save lives. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance offers survival statistics that mirror those of national numbers. The earlier lung cancer is detected, the higher the likelihood of remission. Catching lung cancer in Stage I has an average survival rate in Seattle of 44 percent at five years, though as high as 61 percent for patients who receive advanced treatment through facilities like the University of Washington Medical Center. These rates drop precipitously in cases of late detection, peaking at 51 percent at five years for Stage II detection and 15 percent at five years for Stage III.
The Cancer Care Alliance also concurs with the ALA’s anti-smoking position, finding that 80 percent of lung cancer cases are associated with tobacco smoking. Washington has had a historically low smoking rate compared to the rest of the nation, hovering around 14 percent over the past several years according to the Washington State Department of Health. The Washington Cancer Registry does, however, show that King County has a higher-than-average lung cancer rate than the rest of the state.
Registration for the Seattle Fight for Air Climb will remain open until the day of the event, or the day before for online registration. Individuals pay a $40 registration fee with the promise of raising at least $100 in addition. First responders receive a discounted $25 registration fee and those who sign up as volunteers for the event register for free. Check-in time is 8 a.m. on January 25, 7:15 a.m. for volunteers. Rainier Tower is located at 1301 5th Avenue, downtown.
The Shanks family also maintains the Tammi O’Brien Shanks Memorial Nursing Scholarship, helping students at the Shoreline Community College nursing program with their second-year tuition. It is an annual scholarship that takes donations throughout the year.