Ceara Murray will take part in Free to Breathe yogathon in memory of her late uncle, Tim Peterson

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FARMINGTON — When it comes to lung cancer, many people automatically thinking of smoking, the leading cause of the disease.

But Ceara Murray's thoughts go to a much more personal place.

Next month, the 31-year-old Farmington woman will participate in the annual Free to Breathe event in Albuquerque in memory of her uncle, Tim Peterson, who died from the disease in summer 2015. This year's event will include a bike ride and a yogathon, and Murray will participate in the yoga portion.

Peterson, who was born and raised in Farmington, entered the U.S. Air Force in 1984 after graduating from high school. He served in the Air Force for more than 20 years.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, it shocked his family, Murray said.

Peterson was not the stereotypical lung cancer patient. He was relatively young — in his 40s— and ran marathons. And he had never smoked.

Because of all that, doctors initially dismissed the idea of lung cancer, Murray said.

Peterson went to the doctor after he developed a persistent cough and shortness of breath while running. Doctors assured him that he was healthy, Murray said, but her uncle did not relent, continuing to seek medical help.

“He just would not go away,” she recalled.

That persistence eventually led doctors to diagnose Peterson with stage four lung cancer. At that point, he and his family got involved with Free to Breathe, an organization that raises money for lung cancer research. In 2014, Team Tim was the top fundraising team at the nonprofit's bike ride in Albuquerque.

Annette Leger, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, started the Albuquerque bike ride in 2012. The ride is the national organization's only bike event, said Bridget Purchatzke, senior events coordinator for Free to Breathe. The nonprofit also hosts about 35 running and walking events throughout the country.

Purchatzke said Leger approached the organization about starting the bike event. The first-ever ride drew nearly 300 participants and raised more than $45,000. Months later, Leger died from lung cancer in August 2012.

Like Peterson, Leger was a non-smoker and an athlete. In her memory, family and friends have kept the bike ride going, according to Purchatzke. Last year's ride attracted more than 200 participants and raised more than $34,000.

The money goes to lung cancer research and patient education. Free to Breathe hopes to double the five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients by 2022. Right now, the rate is 17 percent and the organization wants to see that increase to at least 34 percent.

To help with that effort, the organization is offering two $600,000 grants for lung cancer research. Applications for the grants are currently being accepted, Purchatzke said. Often, funding for lung cancer receives less funding than other cancers, Murray said.

“Lung cancer kind of gets ignored sometimes,” she said. “And it’s quite a shame.”

While survival rates for many other cancers have increased over the years, lung cancer survival rates have stayed the same, she said.

Murray said she hopes to continue raising awareness about lung cancer in her uncle's memory. And she would like to see more research and education about the disease so that "it may not be such a death sentence right away."

Her uncle, she said, remained optimistic about his prognosis until the very end. He even continued to run in marathons after his diagnosis.

"He was very brave through the whole process,” Murray said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

By the numbers

More than 221,000: People diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the U.S.

158,000: People who die each year of lung cancer

17: Percent of lung cancer patients who live past five years

Source: Free to Breathe

Lung cancer facts

Risk factors: While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, other factors can also contribute to the disease. These include radon exposure, secondhand smoke, radiation, asbestos, air pollution, family history and genetic factors.

Symptoms: Signs of lung cancer include coughing or spitting up blood; recurring respiratory illness; an enduring cough; aches or pains in the chest, shoulder or back; difficulty breathing; hoarseness and wheezing; and exhaustion, weakness or lack of appetite. There may also be swelling in the neck or face, difficulty swallowing and weight loss.

​Source: Free to Breathe

If you go

What: Free to Breathe bike ride

When: April 3

Where: National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth St. SW in Albuquerque

Cost: $35 for online registration prior to March 30 and $40 registration on April 3. 

Get involved: People can donate and register at freetobreathe.org

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