Family climbs the Hancock to honor LUNGevity founder, special mom
Glenn Zagon of Deerfield and his daughter Hannah, 14, ran up 94 floors in the John Hancock building in honor of his wife who died of lung cancer during the Hustle Up The Hancock event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 28, 2013 9:30AM
DEERFIELD — With his teenage daughter beside him, Glenn Zagon willingly climbed 94 flights of stairs on Sunday in honor of his late wife.
“For us it’s a way to remember her, to help a great cause, and even for ourselves to get some exercise,” the Deerfield resident said of participating in the Hustle Up the Hancock event in Chicago.
It was also something Missy would have done.
Zagon’s wife, Melissa, had been diagnosed with lung cancer a few months shy of her 33rd birthday. A non-smoker, she fought the disease, spoke out against its stigma and strived to find a cure. She died after a six-year-long battle with cancer in 2007.
LUNGevity Foundation, the premier grant-making organization funding lung cancer research, is her lasting legacy.
But a “really big smile” and kind heart is how Hannah Zagon, 14, remembers mom best.
“She was really nice to everyone,” Zagon said. “She was always happy no matter what she was she going through.”
On Feb. 24, the Zagons ascended the city skyscraper in a race sponsored by the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, which funds lung cancer research at four Chicago hospitals.
It was the first time the father-daughter duo undertook the arduous physical challenge. Other than running up the steps at home, Glenn Zagon said he isn’t much of a stair climber. But that didn’t matter much.
“Our mindset (was) we’re going all the way,” he said.
The strength of those affected by cancer propelled Hannah Zagon to the top of the tower.
“I really wanted to get to the top and to do it for my mom and for all the people who have parents and family members who died of lung cancer,” she said.
In the United States, that equates to hundreds of thousands of people a year.
As the country’s top cancer killer, lung cancer claims approximately 160,000 lives per year, according to LUNGevity. The survival rate after five years of being diagnosed is 16 percent. More than half the people diagnosed have never smoked, or are former smokers.
The most effective cure to lung cancer to date is early detection.
Regular screenings are what ultimately saved Deerfield resident Jill Feldman, past president of LUNGevity and a good friend to the Zagons.
Melissa Zagon, who founded the organization Feldman would ultimately lead, “had really inspired me,” she said.
(In) my experiences, there were not very many hopeful stories,” she said.
By the time she reached her late 20s, Feldman had lost five relatives, including both parents, to lung cancer.
She began volunteering with LUNGevity in 2002 just as it got off the ground. When the organization merged with another prominent research foundation, Protect Your Lungs, in 2010, Feldman stepped down from the board.
She had become lung cancer’s latest victim. She worried more for her four young children.
“I didn’t want them to ever go through what I went through,” she said.
Feldman has had two surgeries to remove the cancer, but nodules were detected again in her lungs last spring.
“This is the one disease that you truly cannot shake,” she said.
Feldman forges ahead for her family and with an overflowing amount of community support.
She said the “match made in heaven” merger made LUNGevity’s impact even more far reaching though the cause is still rooted deeply in Deerfield.
Last spring the first Breathe Deep Deerfield fitness event raised $130,00 for lung cancer research. Then, the past winter, Deerfield High School’s annual three-week-long fundraising drive garnered a record-high $135,000 for LUNGevity, this year’s chosen charity.
More than a quarter-million dollars collected from a town of 18,000 is nothing to sneeze at, Feldman said.
“The heart of LUNGevity beats strongest here in Deerfield,” she said.
Glenn Zagon said the organization’s “powerful” work would have made his founder wife proud.
“She would be blown away if she knew what it came to be today,” he said. “It’s the real deal.”