Walk will raise money for lung cancer research

Kalle Fletcher to participate in ‘Free to Breathe’ in Tacoma

Kalle Fletcher, of Washougal, suggested shaving her mother’s head in August 2010 when Paula Thomason started to lose some of her hair because of chemotherapy. Thomason lost her battle against lung cancer Jan. 7, 2011, at the age of 63. “There were so many times over the course of my mom’s illness that I felt helpless to stop all that was happening to her and ease her pain,” Fletcher said. “It was hard as a daughter to watch my strong, brave mother go through this horrible thing.”

A local resident plans to take part in a 5K lung cancer walk, in honor of her mother, who died with the disease.

Kalle Fletcher, of Washougal, and her daughters Emerson, 5, and Elliot, 3, will participate in the National Lung Cancer Partnership’s ‘Free to Breathe’ event in Tacoma, Saturday, Sept. 7.

There will also be a 5K run and a one-mile walk available that morning at Dickman Mill Park, 2432 Ruston Way.

“I’m really excited about it,” Fletcher said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring awareness to the cause.”

Family members from Seattle and Montana will join her at the event.

“After my mom passed away, I was looking for some way of honoring her and those going through lung cancer or family members who have lung cancer,” Fletcher said. “I could not find a local event. I ran across the ‘Free to Breathe’ website.

“The organization looked amazing,” she added. “Tacoma is not that far, and that would be important for me to do.”

Her mother, Paula Thomason, died Jan. 7, 2011, at the age of 63.

A week after the Tacoma event, Fletcher plans to get together in Arizona with her two younger sisters from California and Texas, to bury their mother’s ashes in a family graveyard.

Fletcher, 35, said her mother had never been around cigarette smoke, so they were completely caught off guard by the diagnosis on April 6, 2010.

“If you have lungs, you can get it,” she said. “That is terrifying.”

According to Fletcher, her mother was diagnosed with asthma and no one took her seriously until she started coughing up blood.

“There is no good screening for this type of thing and not much in the way of advanced screening — especially if you are low risk — non-smoking and never having been around smoke or other toxins,” she said.

Thomason had worked as a flight attendant for Horizon Air.

“She was a cowgirl — feisty and funny and kind,” Fletcher said. “She had a lot of friends. A lot of people rallied around her. I’m so thankful that I got a chance to see all the love from friends and family towards my mom. It was neat as a daughter to see that.”

Thomason died one month before her 10 year anniversary at Horizon. The company traditionally presented a pin and certificate from Chief Executive Officer Glenn Johnson for 10 years of service.

“A lot of her flight attendant friends contacted the CEO and said she was not going to make it,” Fletcher said. “He mailed her everything in advance, and there was a personal letter thanking her for her service and [stating] she was an important part of the company.”

Fletcher met her husband, Tony, through a blind date arranged by her mother in 2001. He is a pilot for Horizon.

Thomason’s cancer journey involved losing some of her hair in August 2010 because of chemotherapy.

It was a side effect that really bothered her mom, Fletcher said.

“It was itchy, and she felt she had lost control of her body,” she added.

Fletcher suggested her mother take control and allow her to shave her head of hair off in a chair on the lawn.

“Mom struggled not to cry, and I had a hard time not crying,” she said. “Emerson woke up and saw my mom’s hair on the grass.

“She said ‘you lost your feathers,’” Fletcher added. “She looked so beautiful. Her hair isn’t what made her beautiful. It was her kindness, her humor, her heart and her strength that made her such a vibrant person. She had cancer, but it did not have her.”

Fletcher’s team’s name for the Tacoma event is “Paula’s Posse.”

Her mother grew up on a farm in Central Washington, and she thought of herself as a cowgirl.

“We will honor her by walking in Western garb and having fun with it,” Fletcher said. “It will be an emotionally difficult moment for us. She would expect nothing less than for us to have fun with it. We owe it to her to have fun.”

She encourages other Camas and Washougal residents to help increase the lung cancer survival rate.

“We are hoping to have more on our team or visit the website and donate to the cause,” Fletcher said.

For more information about donating or registering for the walk or run, email Event Chair Julie Drobny at sunnyjcd@gmail.com or visit www.freetobreathe.org.