Lung health: one woman's journey over mountains and miles

Alice Keefe
Created: November 04, 2019 05:45 PM

(ABC 6 News) - Vaping seems to make headlines every week, but tobacco and smoking still affect millions every year.

With November being lung health awareness month, Mayo Clinic is bringing the focus back to tobacco.


“I was a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines my husband was a pilot. In my 33rd year I thought I had SARS because of the outbreak in Asia, and the following year I thought maybe I had TB because of the outbreak in Somalia,” said Linda Wortman, a 12-year survivor of lung cancer.

When she went to Mayo Clinic for a checkup, what she heard left her speechless.

“My doctor looked at me and said we think you have lung cancer. I said I think you have the wrong patient because I’ve never smoked,” Wortman said.

But, she admits, she worked in a small, enclosed space for years, during a time when people could still smoke on airplanes.

Now, she’s running races, climbing mountains, and biking to raise awareness.

“Our goal is to ride across a bridge in all 50 states to bridge lung health and lung cancer, and hopefully create awareness to save people’s lives and lungs,” Wortman said.

Vaping is revving up the conversation on lung health once again.

“The last few months we’ve had a number of serious illnesses caused by vaping in probably thousands of individuals, and about 20 to 30 people have actually died from their vaping illness,” said Dr. Taylor Hays, director of Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center.

In Minnesota alone, there have been nearly 100 confirmed cases of vaping associated lung injuries and three deaths.

“It is an epidemic among the young people in the United States; however, it sometimes distracts us from other important things, and the other important thing is preventing tobacco use among youth and reducing tobacco use among adults,” Dr. Hays said.

Wortman still lives with the reality of lung cancer.

Six months ago, a CT scan found another nodule in her lung.

“It’s devastating mentally and physically,” she said.

Exercise has always been a release for Wortman and her husband, Jerry, so they hopped on their bikes and rode 13 miles a day.

“When I saw Dr. Cassidy on Friday they did another CT. I was clear, and I said with exercise and breathing I blew that problem away and he said yes you did,” Wortman said.

For more information on lung health awareness events on November 5th and November 6th, head to Mayo Clinic’s Facebook page

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