After losing two family members, a South Dakota woman wants help in the fight against lung cancer

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- A South Dakota woman saw lung cancer take two people close to her heart. Garretson native Darcy Ellefson traveled to Washington to make sure fellow Americans do not experience her same pain.

“My daughter’s didn’t grow up with a grandma,” said Ellefson. “We need to offer a chance for people with lung cancer.”

Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law both died from lung cancer. Ellefson is in Washington with other representatives of the American Lung Association, serving as South Dakota’s “Lung Force Hero.” She is meeting with her lawmakers and telling her story, hoping it will lead them to do more for the cause.

“There’s wonderful work going on with genetics and immunotherapy and new treatments all the time,” said Ellefson.

Darcy’s push on Capitol Hill is to expand research funding in the 2020 budget. According to the American Lung Association, a quarter million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year. They also say it is the number one cancer killer of women and men in the U.S, and only 18 percent of lung cancer cases among women are diagnose early, when the disease is most treatable.

“To keep increasing that really increases what we can do with research and progression of how we’re treating lung cancer,” said Kelly Smith, Western Division vice president for the American Lung Association.

Smith says lawmakers have been good about boosting funding in the past, but she wants to see even more money sent to the National Institutes of Health. She says the focus is on early detection, but also protecting patients with preexisting conditions.

“Make sure that awareness for lung disease and protecting patients is in the forefront of the discussion of what’s happening here in D.C.,” said Smith.

Ellefson’s lone Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) says, “Health care is essential, we all know that. I truly believe that protecting individuals with preexisting conditions is of utmost importance. I appreciate the work that Ms. Ellefson is doing for individuals impacted by lung cancer. She may just be one individual, but her advocacy is making a difference for the more than 200,000 thousand Americans who are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.”

Any funding for lung cancer research will come in a budget Congress is expected to pass later this year.

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