DOWNEY – Tabitha Paccione was physically active. She was eating healthy. She had never smoked a day in her life.
So when the 37-year-old teacher at Ward Elementary School went to see her doctor over a pesky cough, the last words she expected to hear were “lung cancer.”
“I went to the doctor numerous times, and at first they thought it was Bronchitis. I was given medication,” said Paccione. “When that didn’t work, I went back and I thought it was an acid reflux, so they gave me steroids; it still didn’t go away.”
It wasn’t until Paccione developed a nodule in her throat that forced doctors to order several tests. That’s when they found a tumor in Paccione’s lung.
“My family and I had kind of come to terms with it being thyroid cancer, because it was in my thyroid,” said Paccione. “When they came back and told me I had a lung tumor…I was sitting there and I’m thinking, ‘I never smoked in my life.’ You think of the stigma of lung cancer and you’re thinking an older person who has smoked for years.”
By the time the tumor was found, Paccione’s cancer was stage four and had metastasized to “pretty much everywhere,” including her brain, liver, bones, and lymph nodes.
With the support of her husband Anthony, son Dylan, and daughter Brooklyn, Paccione sought medical care at City of Hope, where she is still currently being treated two years after her diagnosis.
Through her fight, Paccione has been fortunate to avoid one of the harsher elements of cancer treatment: chemotherapy infusion.
“I was really lucky to be in a rare group of people that have a special type of cancer,” said Paccione. “I have a cancer where I’m ALK positive, which means I can take a targeted therapy pill. I actually get to take a chemo pill every day…”
Recently, Paccione has decided to put her life back into her own hands.
“I’m not just going to exist anymore; I don’t want to just survive,” said Paccione. “I want to fight for other people.
“I’m part of this new community because it’s a club nobody wants to belong to. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and I’ve lost a couple of friends, so I decided I’m not just going to sit around anymore. If I’m going to be around and I’m going to be here then I’m going to fight for people.”
Paccione and her family decided to start hosting fundraisers. Having always enjoyed baking, she came up with “Cupcakes for a Cure.”
“My initial thought was ‘I’m going to bake 50 cupcakes and I’m just going to sell them, and whatever money I make I’m going to donate to LUNGevity,’” said Paccione. “It’s a nonprofit foundation that raises awareness, provides money for research, for clinical trials and some of the targeted therapies that are going to keep me around for a little longer.”
She also went to social media and asked for donations to her fundraiser. That’s where things exploded.
“Between families in Downey and businesses, people donated 400 cupcakes in addition to what I baked,” said Paccione. “We sold over 400 cupcakes.”
Paccione’s fundraiser also included a silent auction of donated items. Her daughter sold “Lemonade for Lungs.”
In total, Paccione and her family, with the aid of all her supporters, raised more than $5,000.
“All these amazing people came forward, some of which I never met,” said Paccione. “It’s amazing what a [caring] community Downey is.”
The fundraiser took place a few weeks ago, and Paccione is already planning to make it a yearly endeavor.
“I’ll be doing it every May, and then I plan to do other things too,” said Paccione. “I really want to bring more awareness to lung cancer, because it actually kills more people than breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer combined.”