Laurianne's Hope

Monday, January 08, 2007

LUNGevity Foundation Co-Founder Melissa Zagon: 1967 - 2007

Melissa Zagon: 1967 - 2007
Fought lung cancer on all fronts

After diagnosis, lawyer started group to raise funds, educate

By Trevor Jensen
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 5, 2007

After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Melissa Zagon helped start a group to fund research for a cure and spread awareness that the disease also strikes non-smokers.

The Harvard-educated lawyer died Tuesday, Jan. 2, at Evanston Hospital, her husband said.

Mrs. Zagon, 39, was chairman of the Lungevity Foundation, a group dedicated to funding lung cancer research. While she gamely served as the group's front-woman--a non-smoking young suburban mother fighting a deadly disease--her work also had an understandably self-serving motive.

"She was really looking to find a cure for herself," said her husband, Glenn. "She said that cancer will not get her. She did not want to be a statistic."

Following a summer of headaches, Mrs. Zagon was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2000. She had just started a job at True North Communications after eight years of working in law firms. Her daughter, Hannah, was 2 years old at the time.

Within weeks, she got together with another north suburban woman with lung cancer, Gayle Levy, and with five others launched Lungevity. Levy died in September 2001.

Mrs. Zagon was the group's president through January 2005. As the group's public face, she gave countless speeches and interviews to make people aware of lung cancer's reach, said Jill Feldman, Lungevity's vice president.

"We got media attention because of what she was--a young professional, a mother," Feldman said.

The mission was to let people know that more people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer and that smoking isn't always the cause. Lungevity has raised more than $3.4 million since its founding, Feldman said. The group works with a number of other fundraising and research organizations, including the American Lung Association.

"She gave face to the issue that anyone can develop lung cancer. You don't have to be a smoker," said Kevin Tynan, deputy executive director of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "She had such a compelling story and was such an eloquent spokesperson."

Born Melissa Lumberg, she grew up in Southfield, Mich., and earned a degree in economics from the University of Michigan in 1989 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1992, her husband said.

She moved to Chicago and worked for Jenner & Block and then Goldberg Kohn, where she made partner status in 1999. She had taken a job as counsel at True North in the summer of 2000 in an effort to make more time for her family, her husband said.

While smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, Mrs. Zagon wanted to remove the disease's stigma of blame and always told people that it wasn't that important what the underlying causes were. "You just get cancer," Feldman said.

"Everyone always asked her if she smoked," Glenn Zagon said. "The thing that annoyed her was that they assumed she smoked."

In 2001, Mrs. Zagon told the Tribune that "nobody, regardless of whether they smoked, deserves to suffer through lung cancer."

In private moments, she showed the same resolve in battling the disease that she did while stumping for Lungevity, her husband said.

"She never complained about it ... and said `Why me?'" her husband said. "She just fought it."

Mrs. Zagon also is survived by her daughter, Hannah; her parents, Edward and Sherri Lumberg; and a brother, Michael.

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Lung Cancer AwarenessPosted by Lynda (Laurianne's Sister) :: 7:36 PM :: 0 people are more aware