Marc Kuchler and Rachael Kling look like many other couples who begin to settle down in Roxborough and Manayunk—and in many ways they are. Both attended Drexel University, work in the area and own a home in Roxborough. In July, the pair got engaged.
However, since October 2011, the couple has dealt with a challenging and life-altering ordeal—Kuchler battles stage IV non-small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer with metastases to the spine and right shoulder. At 28, the engineer from LF Driscoll Construction with a clean bill of health had to begin the chemotherapy, radiation, and exhaustion—both physically and mentally—associated with the disease.
Almost immediately, Kuchler and Kling became involved in the lung cancer awareness effort—partly because everyone they knew peppered them with questions and partly because they learned people are largely ignorant about lung cancer, unlike other forms of the disease.
"So many people associate it with smoking. But people are realizing now that anyone can have lung cancer. Unless you have a chest X-ray on a regular basis, you can't see it," Kling said. "Every cancer is awful and you wouldn't want to get it, but there's a stigma associated with lung cancer. People always ask me if he smoked, and I'm like, 'What, was he smoking from the womb?'"
To help with the effort, for the second straight year, Kuchler and Kling have organized "Miles for Marc" a team competing in the Free to Breathe walk and 5k Nov. 4 in Fairmount Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic Parkway.
Throughout most of 2012, Kuchler has undergone treatment for the disease. He signed up for a clinical trial, completed radiation and six rounds of chemotherapy. For the majority, Kuchler continued to work, crediting his employers for being understanding.
The radiation proved to be manageable. When he began chemo, though, he started to struggle and eventually had to take a leave of absence during the third round.
Although physically exhausting, cancer left him with a lot of time on his hands. Fortunately, he was able to get back to the office in June.
"Returning to work was definitely something I needed. There were some times that I was just vegging out, doing nothing," he said.
Kuchler realizes that having cancer is worthy topic of conversation but he sometimes gets annoyed with how often and similar the talks go.
"I don't mind talking about it. Clearly, it's something I've got now. But every time I see people it's like at a high school reunion...'How's the cancer? 'You look so good.' It's always same thing. I'm here living my life and it gets frustrating," he said.
The cancer itself now is considered in partial remission, with the tumor decreasing 15 to 20 percent, he said. He gets scanned every six weeks to monitor the tumor, and weekly receives clinical trial treatments and maintenance drugs every three weeks.
Lung Cancer Awareness
Sometimes referred to as the "silent cancer," lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to American Lung Association. While many times the cancer is brought on by smoking, it's not always the case.
Kuchler and Kling consumed lung cancer literature after his diagnosis and it seemed like both became spokespeople for lung cancer.
As the one with the disease, Kuchler said people sometimes are hesitant to approach him with questions.
"Rachael definitely gets more of the questions than I do. People ask me how I feel, how are you doing, but I haven't gotten as many questions on the drugs," he said.
The more Kling read, the more she realized a fundamental problem existed about lung cancer.
"Everything we learned from lung cancer is that it's horribly underfunded. There are thousands of options for treatments out there, but they don't have funding," she said.
'Free to Breathe'
The couple found out about the Free to Breathe race last year, and jumped on board with a small team. At the 2011 race, Kuchler noticed one group that inspired him.
"There was a huge team that had red shirts. When announcements were made about how much money they raised, it was like $15,000. I thought, wow, that's awesome. We wanted to try to get up to that."
So far the Miles for Marc team is halfway toward its goal of $15,000. Coworkers, friends and family have donated, but Kling also said people they've never met have given, bringing the current total to $7,584, as of Sept. 18.
"I think they were touched by the story, with Marc being so young and so healthy to get that diagnosis. They think, gosh if that happens to him, it can happen to anyone," she said.
Kuchler continues his cancer battle, but also says he's just started with lung cancer awareness. In addition to annually organizing Miles for Marc, he wants to coordinate a large-scale music concert with funds going toward lung cancer research.
People may sign up to donate or run the 5k by following this website.
For any musicians or venues that'd like to help the couple organize a concert, email Kling at email@example.com.
Editor's note: In an early version, the name of the run/walk was misidentified in some instances. It has since been corrected.