What if running a marathon could transform lung cancer? Meet Fran Bruno and Jessica Trovato, two powerful women who share their unique yet connected stories with us. Both lost their fathers to lung cancer, turning their grief into a powerful purpose by racing to stop lung cancer with LUNGevity Foundation at the TCS New York City Marathon on November 5, 2023.
Their journeys originally intersected as Breathe Deep TOGETHER volunteer committee members, marking the beginning of a deep and enduring friendship that predates many major milestones, from marriages to motherhood.
Here are 10 inspiring lessons we can learn from their incredible journeys.
1. Start Small, Dream Big
In 2010, Fran Bruno connected with LUNGevity when her father, Patrick, known as Gino, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Fran remembers the five years of his diagnosis, saying, "There were ups and downs, but through it all, he remained positive." Team G became a supportive space for family and friends during this tough period and remains a strong support today.
During her father’s health challenges, Fran found comfort and purpose in LUNGevity and Breathe Deep TOGETHER. "I was scrambling to figure out what I could do, and I knew I wanted to do more than just participate,” she says. She connected with Jessica and joined the Breathe Deep NYC committee, originally consisting of just six people.
Over time, the event has become an annual tradition, even after Gino’s passing in 2015. Fran's story illustrates that meaningful change often starts with a simple decision to act. She has raised more than $70,000 through 17 events with LUNGevity.
Jessica Trovato's connection with LUNGevity spans over 15 years, beginning when her father, Elio, was diagnosed with lung cancer. "It's overwhelming when someone you love faces cancer. I tried to bring positivity into it," she reflects. "It meant a lot that my father could participate in Breathe Deep TOGETHER in 2008. We had a big team and raised more money than I could have imagined."
Her father's passing in 2009 marked a turning point. Jessica transitioned from rallying support for a loved one to continuing her efforts in his memory. Her enduring connection with LUNGevity, resulting in over $50,000 raised for lung cancer research, proves that progress often starts with small first steps.
2. Embrace the Memories
For Fran, each marathon and Breathe Deep TOGETHER walk pays tribute to her father, a man she calls the glue that held their family together. She fondly recalls her father as a supportive and hands-on dad, saying, "He was that dad who sewed buttons on your clothes and made your lunch." His role shaped her understanding of love and responsibility, portraying a father who went above and beyond for his family.
As Fran approaches her fourth marathon, three of those with Team LUNGevity powered by Daiichi Sankyo, she clings to these memories as motivation to make a difference and honor her father's legacy. She feels his presence with her in every step, in every event, urging her to keep moving forward.
Meanwhile, Jessica is training for her first marathon along a boardwalk that holds a special place in her family's heart—her father's once-favorite fishing spot. His name is engraved on one of the planks, a physical reminder that his spirit lives on.
She fondly remembers her father's unique fishing method—shrimp dipped in soy sauce—a secret ingredient that now brings a smile to her face amidst the physical challenges of her marathon training.
3. Find Inspiration in the Unexpected
In life's challenging journey, especially when coping with the loss of a loved one, finding moments of inspiration can make a world of difference.
For Fran, monarch butterflies have become a symbol of her father's enduring presence. When one flutters by during her runs, it is an unexpected yet cherished moment that reminds her why she is running. Feeling a deep connection to her late father's presence, Fran shares, “I genuinely feel like he’s there, helping push me along.”
Jessica vividly recalls a memory that captures the spirit and impact of Breathe Deep TOGETHER—the symbolic act of blowing bubbles as a gesture of hope and remembrance. Hundreds of people affected by lung cancer took one collective breath and blew bubbles into the sky. For Jessica, this created an unexpected emotional and visual experience, highlighting the togetherness she feels at Breathe Deep TOGETHER and its lasting impact on her.
4. The Power of Community
For some, training for a marathon while taking on an organizing role for an event may seem intimidating. "The people keep me going," Fran admits, expressing her thanks for the supportive network she found within her friends, family, LUNGevity, and the lung cancer community.
When her father passed away, Fran immediately reached out to her committee friends. “When my dad died, one of the first things I did was email everyone because I felt these women had been through the thick of it with me. They really did feel and understand the loss.” It was a testament to the strength and closeness of the lung cancer community, proving that their support extended beyond the events and into the most personal aspects of their lives.
For Jessica, witnessing Fran's journey and the community's response resonated with her. “Fran's dad had such a magnetic presence, and I was always so amazed at how their family supported one another. When he passed, I really mourned with them. I think everyone on the committee felt the gravity of losing someone like family,” she shares. It highlighted the profound impact of the community as they navigated the challenges of loss and activism together.
“You realize you’re not alone,” Jessica reflects, underlining the vital role of community in her own journey. “I found a lot of people when I started working with the committee with stories similar to my own.” These annual gatherings become more than just events; they transform into powerful displays of support, resilience, and hope.
5. Push Boundaries with Passion
Taking on the physical and mental challenges of running a marathon is an extraordinary feat that only .01% of the population achieve, yet Fran and Jessica embrace it with open arms and a fiery passion. Fran, running her fourth marathon, is determined to cross the finish line, fueled by her desire to honor her father’s memory.
Every mile becomes a tribute to her father, transforming the marathon into an experience of connection and remembrance. “Every step I take, it’s for my dad. It’s for this cause,” she proclaims, “Running the marathon is an extremely uplifting experience. You are doing it to make a difference.” Fran’s words are a powerful testament to the incredible feats achievable when passion aligns with purpose.
Jessica, taking on her first marathon, runs with her father’s strength in her heart and “Goose” proudly displaced on her singlet. “Hearing people yell out ‘Goose’ as I run really helps me feel like he’s cheering me on because that’s what he would be shouting.” She adds, "Running this marathon is something my dad would have loved to see.”
"It's not about how fast you run; it's about why you run," Jessica realizes, emphasizing that the significance of our steps lies in the heart and purpose behind them.
6. The Importance of Fundraising for Lung Cancer Research
Fundraising stands as a crucial pillar for advancements in lung cancer research, given that it receives only 6% of government support for cancer research.
Having lost her father to lung cancer and currently supporting her sister through breast cancer, Fran has observed the disparities in resources and awareness between different types of cancer. “I’ve seen the incredible progress that has been made in breast cancer advocacy over the last thirty years, and it’s something we are still aspiring to achieve for lung cancer,” Fran notes, highlighting the potential to continue transforming lung cancer into a more manageable diagnosis.
“There is an aspect of it that I’m not going to lie is frustrating… if he was diagnosed several years later, he would have probably lived longer.” Says Fran, underscoring the continuous need for funding and awareness to improve patient outcomes.
Jessica echoes Fran's sentiments, emphasizing that personal efforts, regardless of their size, play a crucial role. "It's about doing what we can in honor of those we love," she says, highlighting her personal drive to make a difference.
Her involvement with LUNGevity provided her with a firsthand view of the progress in lung cancer research, especially in the promising field of immunotherapy. Jessica shares, "Seeing these breakthroughs in lung cancer start as mere ideas and then unfold into studies that have now become medical practice has been incredible."
7. The Significance of the Ask
Setting out on their mission to gather support for their fundraising efforts this year for the TCS New York City Marathon, Fran and Jessica have faced unique challenges and gained valuable insights along the way. They have generously shared their stories and opened their hearts to help others understand the importance of their cause, recognizing that lung cancer’s widespread impact touches nearly everyone.
For Fran, every support request is more than a plea for donations; it is an invitation to join a broader movement focused on change and awareness. She emphasizes the need for consistent outreach, crafting messages that resonate personally with potential donors, and nurturing a sense of responsibility. "You really have to ask somebody at least three times before they're going to donate," Fran points out, stressing the importance of persistence in fundraising.
As Fran continues her fundraising journey, she recognizes the need to diversify outreach strategies to reach a wider network. She advises, "It gets harder over time to ask the same people for donations, and you must find new ways to share the message."
8. Celebrate Every Achievement
Celebrating achievements, whether they are big or small, is important for Jessica and Fran as they navigate their marathon training and fundraising for lung cancer research.
For Jessica, running a marathon was a lifelong goal. Realizing that time does not wait for anyone, she embraced this challenge at the age of 41. Starting from a point where running two miles was a challenge, Jessica made considerable progress in her training journey. She has learned to appreciate her achievements and recognize her physical improvements.
"Running clears my head and sets a positive tone for my day," she admits, highlighting the mental benefits of running. "I'm finally feeling good about my runs; I can see the improvements physically. I might push myself a bit hard, but I try to listen to my body."
Jessica's journey comes with its share of challenges, from managing her training schedule to dealing with varying weather conditions and relying on support from her family. Despite these hurdles, she stays committed, finding joy in her progress with every step she takes.
When Fran crosses the marathon finish line, she has a unique way of celebrating—with a hearty meal of steak and margaritas. Yet, her celebrations go beyond these post-race treats. She takes time to reflect on her journey, "In times of struggle, you really look for that strength, and you find it in yourself and know that part of it is because he left it with us," she shares, connecting her resilience back to the legacy her father left behind.
9. Balance Commitment and Daily Life
Balancing a significant commitment like running a marathon and helping with a large community event like Breathe Deep TOGETHER alongside the demands of daily life is quite a challenge.
Fran's life is packed with activity, but she relies on organization to keep it all together. "I make lists to keep track of everything and make sure I don't forget anything important," Fran says, stressing how this strategy helps her manage her many responsibilities effectively. "It's about finding that balance. You need to prioritize tasks and sometimes let go of certain things. But in the end, it's all worth it because you're contributing to something greater."
Jessica emphasizes the importance of friends and family when life gets busy. "It's great to have a supportive partner who sees you through this," she shares, expressing gratitude for her husband's understanding, even if he occasionally wears a humorous look of, "Are we talking about running again?"
10. Look Ahead with Hope
As Fran and Jessica lace up their running shoes and tackle the most demanding phases of their training, they keep their eyes on the future, especially when it comes to the progress in lung cancer treatments.
“If there’s one thing, I could say to anyone feeling the enormity of being part of a cause that’s close to their heart, it’s to start exactly where you are,” Fran advises sincerely. “Find a local organization, attend their events, volunteer your time, and immerse yourself in the community. Being present and involved makes all the difference.” Fran expresses her admiration and hope when she talks about the evolution of treatments and how some people can now live comfortably without extreme surgeries.
Thinking back to her father's active role in Breathe Deep TOGETHER, Fran warmly recalls how his presence as a survivor brought hope to others. Despite his reservations about being in the spotlight, his participation, like cutting the starting ribbon, left a lasting impact. "Back then, lung cancer survivors were rare. Having him there meant the world to us and many others."
Jessica also embodies a hopeful and positive approach in her fundraising endeavors and commitment to the cause. She emphasizes setting an example of strength and dedication for her daughter, saying, "I want her to see that I am strong and fast, no matter how I actually feel about my performance." Jessica continues, "It's crucial for younger girls to see women coming together, showing strength, and living healthy and empowered lives."
Through her involvement with Team LUNGevity and Breathe Deep TOGETHER, Jessica keeps her father's memory alive, finding strength and guidance in his absence. "When I'm out there running, I can almost hear him coaching and encouraging me. He may not be here in person, but his presence and strength guide me through every step."
Over the past 20 years, Team LUNGevity has served as an Official Charity Partner with some of the most prominent events nationwide. In addition to our Official Charity Partner events, athletes can participate in any endurance event and fundraise through our B.Y.O.B (“Bring Your Own Bib”) program for lung cancer research.
The nation's largest lung cancer event to kick off Lung Cancer Awareness Month, celebrate the milestones achieved in lung cancer research, and advocate for continued change. In person events happening in Boston, Chicago, D.C., New York City, and NE Pennsylvania include a Lung Cancer Resource Fair, unified walk, and activities for families of all ages.