WALNUT CREEK -- Francis was a handsome exchange student during her senior year at Concord's Mt. Diablo High School. Roslyn was a blonde California girl who noticed him in her classes even though he was a year younger.
"California schools, you know? Any student who comes here from Europe automatically got put a year ahead," recalls Roslyn Spruit.
Sparks flew, but at the end of the term, he flew -- back to the Netherlands. Years passed. They married ... other people. They divorced those other people.
Nearly 15 years later, he phoned her, and they reconnected. He was working in southern Holland for an outpost of an American computer company and easily relocated here.
They married, this time to one another.
Roslyn, now 54, and Francis Spruit, now 53, were truly living happily ever after in Hercules, working and raising her three kids from her first marriage and a child of their own. Then in December 2007, Francis got the diagnosis. That cough? Lung cancer.
"I thought, 'This is it. I'm going to die,' " Francis recalls.
But he didn't die. He had surgery at John Muir Medical Center on Christmas Eve to remove a tumor from his left lung that he likens to the size of an apple. Then he underwent chemo from February 2008 into April.
"I don't know what was worse, the surgery or the chemo," comments Francis. "But I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the 15 percent who is still alive."
When the Spruits attended a conference later that year for lung cancer survivors in San Francisco put on by the Lung Cancer Alliance, they became more aware of how really slim the odds are for lung cancer patients -- especially when compared to the survival rates now for many other types of cancers.
"Breast cancer is a good example of a highly focused community effort. As a result of that effort, the government has put a lot of money into breast cancer research. Now 80 to 90 percent of breast cancer survivors survive past five years. Compare that to lung cancer where the five year survival rate is only 15 percent, and that hasn't changed for years," Roslyn Spruit points out. "And the reality is twice as many women die of lung cancer each year as die from breast cancer."
As they became more involved with the Lung Cancer Alliance, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy, educational outreach and patient support group, they learned that, unlike Francis, many people with lung cancer may not have a cough prompting them to seek medical attention. And that while those with the highest risk are ex-smokers like Francis, along with people exposed to asbestos, veterans exposed to chemicals like Agent Orange and people with radon gas in their homes or workplace, many people who develop lung cancer may not have any risk factors.
Explains Roslyn Pruit, "Lung cancer is often called 'the silent killer.' Because the lungs have no nerves, there may be no indication that you have a tumor in your lung until it is too late."
This Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m., the Pruits hope people will join them at the Walnut Creek Library in the Oak Room to for a vigil, "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer."
"This is a good opportunity for the community to come together to honor those we have lost, those living with lung cancer and those who have survived. It will also be a good opportunity to learn," said Roslyn.
Guest speakers will include a thoracic surgeon from John Muir Medical Center and a researcher from the UC San Francisco.
"We have two bills in Congress now, one in the House and one in the Senate, that challenge the federal government to come up with a plan to reduce lung cancer mortality and pass a Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act," said Roslyn.
Francis adds, "We have set a very ambitious goal: to reduce lung cancer deaths by 50 percent by the year 2020. We want lung cancer to be a higher priority."
The Spruits say that an annual preventive lung cancer screening, a low dose X-ray, should be as routine as breast cancer screening, especially for those at high risk.
Noted Roslyn, "It's an outrage that on a yearly basis, 160,000 people will not make it because of lung cancer. That is the equivalent of a 747 crashing every day."
When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
Where: Walnut Creek Library, Oak Room, 1644 N. Broadway
More info: vigil