Did you know, lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer yet it receives the least amount of government funding? November is Lung Cancer Awareness month.
Last year, we brought you the story of a 25 year old La Crosse woman who was battling the disease. She lost her fight earlier this year.
But even after her death, she's helping making an impact on the lives of others.
Elizabeth Melde had a smile that could light up a room and a sense of humor to go along with it. "Even in her final moments, she still had her sense of humor," said Elizabeth's father Steve Holman.
She and her husband Matt were Newleyweds, just a year into their marriage last year when one day changed everything. "It was a month after our first anniversary and she had gone in a couple of times because of a cough that kept getting worse and worse. I left early from work and met her at the hospital and they told us they found something very surprising and they said it was lung cancer," said Matt.
They were words no one wants to hear. "We were all just in total shock and disbelief," said Elizabeth's mom Monica Holman. But this wasn't just cancer, it was stage four lung cancer. "It was just so out of the blue," said Matt. The breath literally taken out of an otherwise healthy 25 year old woman who never smoked. "I just kind of went blank. I didn't know anything about lung cancer at the time. I didn't know how serious it was, I didn't know anything about it," said Matt.
Almost immediately after hearing the devastating diagnosis, Elizabeth put on her fighting gloves, and those close to her followed suit. Monica said, "right away she just grabbed me and said you need to be strong for me." "Even when we started to realize we might not beat this, she was more worried about us than she was about herself. It was incredible," said Matt.
On April 7th , 2012, after a short six and a half months, Elizabeth Melde lost her fight. But even after her death, she continues to inspire and educate others about the disease she knew so little about herself. A non-profit organization called "Living for Liz" bares her name and her vision. Matt said, "she was going to be a part of it, if she had made it, she wanted to do this, this was her idea."
For Matt, it's an important cause to keep fighting. Not only to keep his wife's memory alive, but to make sure no others have to feel the same pain. "I can bring back those feelings from the day she died like that and I just don't want other families to go through that, it was so hard."
One of the main goals of the non-profit is to get rid of the stigma, the idea that lung cancer is just a smoker's disease. "Right now, people think they did it to themselves and on some level they deserve it. I don't care if you smoked or not, you don't deserve to go through what Elizabeth went through," said Matt.
Elizabeth's parents also believe it's important to come up with a new screening method so the disease can be caught earlier before it's too late. Steve said, "We've got mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colon cancer, there's got to be some other diagnostic test that we can do that the insurance companies will all agree to."
Their work is difficult at times yet healing on some levels too. The pain of losing a loved one will never go away, but knowing this is what Elizabeth would've wanted, in some small way makes it easier to bare. "It's a huge effort and it may have a snowball effect and I think that's great, it's is healing because we know we're helping other people as well," said Monica. Steve said, "she would definitely have a say in how this is being operated so I'm sure we're being guided in a way as well and she'd be proud of what we're doing so far."
"Living for Liz" is awaiting its official tax exempt status as a non-proft which should be coming within the next several months.
They plan to hold events in Wisconsin and Minnesota to raise awareness for lung cancer. They already held the first annual Liz Fest back in June, just two months after Elizabeth's death. About 500 people attended the event.
The non-profit also has a website that just went online where you can learn more about their mission and cause It's www.livingforliz.com.