by Len Lear

Donna-Lee Lista, 52, of Montgomeryville, never smoked, but she still contracted lung cancer. (About 15% of all diagnoses of lung cancer are of non-smokers.) Donna is certainly not the “face” or story one typically hears about when thinking of lung cancer.  But her daughter, Alexandra, a goalie on the school lacrosse team, has mobilized and started a new non-profit organization, Laxers vs. Lung Cancer, with two of her lacrosse teammates — sophomores Olivia Gannon, attacker, and Dominique Nyzio, defender — at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown to raise money to raise awareness and support research.

The Laxers vs. Lung Cancer girls (left to right) — Alexandra Lista, Dominique Nyzio and Olivia Gannon — are talented athletes at Mount St. Joseph in Flourtown as well as big-hearted activists.

Money was raised by various activities such as selling merchandise like headbands, hairties, etc., and running lacrosse clinics and tournaments.

Then on Sunday, Nov. 6, Donna-Lee and her support crew walked in the annual Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership’s “Free to Breathe” event in West Fairmount Park.

This event provides an opportunity for lung cancer advocates, survivors and the community to come together to raise awareness and support to fight this disease. More than 2,900 participants helped raise over $300,000, which was all donated to the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership’s research, education and awareness programs.

Alexandra explained why she and her teammates started their nonprofit organization: “People dealing with lung cancer, especially people that never smoked, see that lung cancer  doesn’t  get nearly as much funding as it needs. So we wanted to start an organization that will bring attention and raise money for this disease.”

Meanwhile, Alexandra’s mom told us last week, “I am now doing very well. I am five-and-three-quarters years out (from the cancer diagnosis) and clear.”

According to “Cancer Facts and Figures,” a report by the American Cancer Society, “Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of American men and women. Lung cancer kills almost twice as many American women as breast cancer annually and three times as many men as prostate cancer.

“One in 13 men and one in 16 women will get lung cancer in their lifetime. Approximately 219,400 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S. each year. This means an American is diagnosed with lung cancer every 2.5 minutes. Lung cancer kills nearly 160,000 people annually – more people than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney and melanoma cancers combined.”

Despite these alarming statistics, “Less money is spent on lung cancer research than on research on other cancers. In 2006, the National Cancer Institute estimated it spent only $1,638 per lung cancer death compared to $13,519 per breast cancer death, $11,298 per prostate cancer death, and $4,588 per colorectal cancer.”

The National Lung Cancer Partnership, sponsor of the “Free to Breathe” events, is the only lung cancer advocacy organization founded by physicians and researchers working together with survivors and advocates to increase lung cancer awareness and research funding.

Their mission is to decrease deaths due to lung cancer and help patients live longer and better through research, awareness and advocacy. For more information, visit