The Patient’s Team: Who’s On Call?

Deborah Laxson:

Deborah is an author, speaker, and advocate for effective communication between patients, families, and medical teams. Using personal experiences and relatable stories, Deborah empowers the patient to define, document and communicate their unique priorities and values regarding treatment options. Deborah Day Laxson is the author of The Fog Zone: Navigating the Space After Your Diagnosis and the award-winning book The Gray Zone: When Life Support No Longer Supports Life.

Midwest Lung Cancer Patient Summit Presentation:

The Patient’s Team: Who’s On Call? – Debora Laxson, Vice-Chair of MN Palliative Care Advisory Council, Author

Palliative Care and Alternative Therapies

Merryn Jolkovsky, MD:

After practicing Nephrology for 18 years, Merryn refocused her practice to improve the care of patients facing serious illness and reaching the end of life. She designed and successfully implemented a Palliative Care program within CentraCare, with the goal of improving care for patients with serious illness. Through collaboration with the ICU to integrate Palliative Care, and with the Home Care team to create a Home Care Palliative option. Jolkovsky brought Schwartz Center Rounds to the hospital, and led the collaboration with The Convenings, an Emmy-award winning public awareness campaign for health care directives. Merryn also founded a NPO, Light the Legacy, to promote health care directives in our community and currently serves as chair of the Board of Directors. She works with groups within the state to advance and pass legislation to create a Palliative Care Advisory Council for our state government, and to collaborate with other health systems on a Serious Illness Conversation initiative. She also served on the ICSI Palliative Care Guideline workgroup to rewrite the Palliative Care Guidelines for 2019. I speak at various events throughout central Minnesota on the topics of Palliative Care, medical ethics, and Post-acute Care, and have presented our work at national forums such as CAPC and IHI.



Kathi Sowada, RN:

Kathi works for CentraCare as an Integrative Health Specialist. As a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine with previous experience as a Registered Nurse, she integrates both Eastern and Western medical philosophies into her practice. Specializing in oncology acupuncture and energy healing modalities such as Qigong and Healing Touch, Kathi works with patients of the Coborn Cancer Center to manage the physical and emotional effects of cancer treatment. Her mission is to empower people to realize their inner healing potential and to help them become active participants in their healing process.

Midwest Lung Cancer Patient Summit Presentation:

Palliative Care and Alternative Therapies – Merryn Jolkovsky, MD and Kathi Sowada, RN, Integrative Health Specialist, Centra Care

Introduce evidence-based nonpharmacological healing options for those will cancer and will discuss my experiences working with cancer survivors at the Coborn Cancer Center.

Preparing for A Good Death

Anne Murphy:

Bringing ceremonies to life with a hands on approach to death. Acknowledging the thresholds of life require deep listening, gentle support, and practical information. With almost a decade of working as a celebrant, death educator and home vigil guide, Anne offers her presence, guidance, and expertise to discover how to make meaning through thoughtful conversations, sincerity, and creativity.

Anne is the Co-Founder of Minnesota Death Collaborative, served as a board member on the National Home Funeral Alliance and continues to volunteer for the National End of Life Doula Association, Crescent Cove and the Land Conservation Natural Burial group.





Jane Whitlock:

Jane is a trained end of life doulaand CNA. She didn’t start that way. But after her husband’s death from cancer she realized how unprepared she had been. She helps families at home on hospice prepare for what is to come on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.





Midwest Lung Cancer Patient Summit Presentation:

Preparing for A Good Death – Jane Whitlock, End-of-Life Doula and Anne Murphy, Celebrant, Home Vigil Guide, Death Educator

Embracing death as a natural part of life and planning for it in thoughtful and loving ways can support everyone involved. Come curious to hear about death doulas, green burials, home vigils and how to have meaningful end of life conversations with your family and friends. Through candid storytelling, humor and straight forward information we will highlight some of the choices out there so that you can make end of life decisions based on your values and beliefs. Death, though final, is a part of life and integral to our wholeness as humans. Our hope is that you will leave clearer about your choices and who can support them.

Gut Microbiota Related to Lung Cancer and the Immune System

Dr. Amit Kulkarni is a Medical Oncologist specializing in thoracic malignancies at the University of Minnesota, Masonic Cancer Center. He joined the faculty in 2020 after completing his fellowship at the University of Minnesota. His research is focused on evaluating the role of microbiome as a novel biomarker for treatment response. In addition, he is studying the feasibility of modulating the gut microbiome to boost treatment outcomes.

Midwest Lung Cancer Patient Summit Presentation:

Gut Microbiota Related to Lung Cancer and the Immune System Amit Kulkarni, MD, University of Minnesota

Discuss the role of microbiome at the interface of the immune system, lung cancer development and its treatment. I will also discuss the impact of diet and medications on the gut health (microbiome) and treatment response.

2020 Gala Registration

A Message From An ABOH Researcher

A note from our 2020 A Breath of Hope Fellow and winner of the Katherine Bensen Hope Award – Dr. Esra Akbay of UTSW:

Dear Katherine Bensen and supporters of the A Breath of Lung Foundation,

I am incredibly humbled to have received the “Katherine Bensen Hope Award” for our studies regarding overcoming resistance to immune checkpoint blockade by targeting telomerase. We are very excited that we can now perform these important studies. This funding comes in a very difficult time where most agencies have reduced funding. Now is also a very critical time in my personal research career – research in my lab is just starting to yield significant observations, but we do not currently have Federal funding to support our exciting work.

We will use the Katherine Bensen Hope Award to determine how telomerase inhibition with our novel agent works together with the immune system and whether targeting telomerase – a hallmark of cancer – can sensitize otherwise treatment-resistant tumors to the current standard of care. Because telomerase is a common cancer target, we believe that the biology can be applied to most lung cancers including the non-smoker associated lung cancers which are currently refractory to immunotherapies. Thankfully, with the funding from A Breath of Hope, Lung Foundation, we will be able to launch these studies. 

We appreciate A Breath of Hope, its donors, and specifically Katherine Bensen’s dedication to support lung cancer research even during such difficult times. We will use the funds to generate data to help inform clinical trials and sincerely hope to make an impact in the lives of lung cancer patients and their families.

Warmest regards to the ABOH Community,


Dr. Esra Akbay, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Pathology
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Volunteer of the Month: Anne Bacigalupo

Anne Bacigalupo is an event volunteer at ABOH. Anne and her husband Mark became involved at ABOH when their pastor and dear friend, John Bucka, was diagnosed with nonsmoking lung cancer. They rallied around John and participated in the ABOH Twin Cities Lung Run/Walk and Golf Classic in his honor. Anne and Mark were hit again when Mark’s mother was diagnosed. They lost both of these loved ones to this terrible disease.

Anne volunteers at ABOH because she has lost many family and friends to America’s number one cancer killer. She wants to do whatever she can to help raise awareness about lung cancer and improve funding for research to put an end to the disease.

Anne is currently serving as co-chair of the ABOH 10th birthday celebration, the 2018 Shining Bright Gala. She has recruited guests, motivated other committee members, solicited amazing silent and live auction items, and has generously donated quite a few things of her own.

ABOH staff and event manager, Anna, loves working with Anne. “Anne is amazing. She works tirelessly to make sure this event is beautiful and raises money to fight lung cancer. She makes my job easier and covers many tasks that help me be more productive with my time. This year’s gala will be more successful because of her hard work.”

Thank you, Anne, from all of us at ABOH!

FROM ANNE: “When I was asked to co-chair and help plan the 10th birthday party, my response was a strong ‘absolutely’. I am excited to help build an event that celebrates hope and raises money for lung cancer research. I have lost too many people to this devastating disease.

My favorite co-chair duties have been working on the décor and the silent and live auctions with the amazing staff and other volunteers. It has been an honor to help create what I hope will be a memorable and fun evening.

Let’s find hope and an end to lung cancer.”

Katie and Benjie profile

Katie Mann

Katie lost the love of her life, husband Benjie, to lung cancer on October 24, 2017. The diagnosis came just two months before Benjie passed, but he had symptoms long before he was finally diagnosed. Benjie was 57 years old.

Katie and the couple’s children miss Benjie every day and feel frustrated by the lack of awareness about this disease in society. They have questions:

Why aren’t we screened for lung cancer, the deadliest of all cancers, when we screen for other less deadly cancers annually?

Why aren’t we educated as a society about what lung cancer looks like and when it is time for a low does CT scan?

Katie’s daughters read a book focused on grief called, It’s OK That You’re Not OK. The author explains that everyone needs a 3AM buddy, someone to call when in need of a friend in the middle of the night. They vowed to be that friend to each other, but Katie quickly realized that her 3AM buddy was Benjie. And as it goes with grief, the pain of the loss rolls over and through her over and over again, especially in the middle of the night.

Katie recently join the A Breath of Hope Circle of Light ( because she lives with the profound loss of lung cancer every single day and she knows she must take action to help other families avoid all she has been through. She is angry that this silent killer goes undetected until it is too advanced to beat. She is angry that 433 people die of lung cancer every day, yet there is little public conversation about this disease.

Katie hopes that her support of A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation (ABOH) will help:

1) Educate the public about the disease (including the inaccurate and mean stigma) using facts;
2) Support ABOH research and support services for patients and family members; and
3) Get LUNG CANCER SCREENING added to EVERYONE’S annual healthcare rights.

In the end, Katie hopes her efforts to change lung cancer outcomes will save other’s 3AM buddies.❤️

Mac LeFevre

Uncle Mac finishes another run

Mac was a marathon runner, never smoked and has a father who is active and well at age 95. Mac was always healthy. Read more