Renate Rieker Baldwin of Columbine Knolls South was only 47 and had never smoked a cigarette, but she died of lung cancer in 2007 after enduring many different treatments over three years.
Lung cancer is an unforgiving disease that attacks non-smokers as well as smokers, although people tend to think of it as a smoker's affliction. Every year, between 20,000 and 30,000 people who never smoked are diagnosed with lung cancer, representing 10 to 15 percent of all new cases.
To help fund research to find a cure, the National Lung Cancer Partnership is sponsoring the third annual Free to Breathe Denver 5K Run/Walk at Washington Park on Sept. 30.
Renate Baldwin's battle began in July 2004 with a persistent cough. "We were going camping, and she said she was tired, wasn't feeling well and that something was wrong," said her husband of 25 years, Mike Baldwin.
"She said to take the kids and go ahead and get a campsite, and she would go see the doctor. … She had a healthy lifestyle, worked out and was very active. I had a tough time keeping up with her sometimes," he said.
They met when he was 24 and she was 21 and both were working at the same restaurant in Atlanta. He was the manager, and she was a bookkeeper. They were married two years later.
The doctor suggested a chest X-ray, and the surgeon found a small mass on her lung. Soon, Renate was in surgery. The surgeons did a biopsy on the spot and removed the lower lobe. She was only 44 years old, working as an accountant, with a son and a daughter in their teens. She was studying to get a bachelor's degree in accounting.
"We started chemo and radiation and a number of various protocols. We thought it was in remission a few times," Mike Baldwin said. "When she was feeling better, we would do short trips." They went to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, Venice, Fla., and various places around Colorado.
‘To have her name live on’
About 160,000 people die of lung cancer every year, which is more people than are killed by breast, prostate and colon cancer combined, according to the National Lung Cancer Partnership. But lung cancer gets far less funding.
This year, Renate's daughter, Kersten, is the organizer for Free to Breathe Denver, and her father, Mike, will serve as a volunteer at the run/walk.
Kersten Baldwin, a communications specialist for the city of Centennial, joined the Lung Cancer Partnership as an assistant to the event organizer last year.
When Kersten Baldwin was about to graduate from Mullen High School, her mother was so sick that the school decided to stage a graduation ceremony at the house, including speeches, diplomas and about 60 students from her class.
"I was looking for ways to get involved last summer after I graduated from college,” Kersten said. “I found it online. I just reached out to the person who founded the race, and she really needed help. I just took over this year.
"Lung cancer research is terribly underfunded. That's something that needs to change," Kersten said. "I wanted to find something that would help change the current system and have her name live on.”
Proceeds from the event support the National Lung Cancer Partnership's research, education and awareness programs.
Contact Vicky Gits at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.