Song of Survival: Musician Draws Inspiration from Lung Cancer Battles

Martha Lesnick  OSUCCC James

“Carry on, keep faith, step by step/With each and every breath, breathe hope”

These lyrics from “Breathe Hope” were written by singer-songwriter Martha McCann Lesnick, for whom each and every breath is indeed a leap of faith… and a lungful of hope.

This Nashville-based performer has been diagnosed twice with lung cancer.

“There’s not a lot of two-time lung cancer survivors,” says Martha, who is also a children’s book author. “My scans are good so far—my doctor is very pleased.”

Pleased is a bit of an understatement. Her doctor, David Carbone, MD, PhD, has been inspired by Lesnick.

“I’ve played her song, “Breathe Hope,” during presentations, it’s quite inspirational,” says Carbone, Director, The James Thoracic Center of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

“She’s the rare person who’s had lung cancer twice and been cured twice,” he says.

Carbone first treated Lesnick in 2006, when he was at Vanderbilt University. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer again in 2013, Lesnick consulted with Carbone (who left Vanderbilt in 2012 to come to the OSUCCC – James) about her treatment plan, and Lesnick and her husband make several trips a year to Columbus for her scans and to see her favorite doctor.

“I had no idea (in 2006) how fortunate I was to have him as my oncologist,” Martha says. “I didn’t realize what a figure he was in lung cancer. He was just a very nice person. Very caring… easygoing, easy to like.”

Martha has become a lung-cancer advocate. “Breathe Hope” is her way of spreading the word that lung cancer is a terrible disease, and that funding research is the key to improving the survival rate.

She counts her blessings in “Breathe Hope” and sings:

From here on in, outrunning the odds
In memory of many we journey on
It's our turn to live, our time to speak
For all our loved ones whose journey is complete

There will be an estimated 223,000 lung-cancer diagnoses in the United States in 2017 and about 156,000 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.

About 25 percent of all cancer deaths among women are from lung cancer, followed by breast cancer (14 percent) and colon cancer (8 percent), Carbone says, citing statistics from the American Cancer Society. For men, lung cancer accounts for 27 percent of all cancer-related deaths, followed by colon cancer (9 percent) and prostate cancer (8).

Several new drugs that treat lung cancer have been developed and approved in recent years, with several more in clinical trials at the OSUCCC – James.

“(So much) progress is being made in treating lung cancer,” says Carbone, one of the leaders of this progress. “The pace is incredible, but we still have a long way to go.”

Martha was a long-time smoker who was finally able to stop in 2006.

“There was a perception that people who smoked deserved it,” she says. “It was Dr. Carbone who first said to me, ‘no one deserves lung cancer.’”

And every patient deserves the best possible treatment after a lung cancer diagnosis.

Martha has created a fundraising T-shirt with a butterfly design and the words: Striving To Be Lung Cancer Free. Proceeds from sales benefit Carbone’s research at the OSUCCC – James.

“And, on the back of the T-shirt it says, ‘Ask Me About Lung Cancer,” she said. “People are always surprised that so many people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year and that about 150,000 die.”

Martha and her music are helping to spread the word about lung cancer and the need to fund research.