More than 9,000 people in Illinois were diagnosed with lung cancer this year alone. It manifests in multiple forms with symptoms that often go unnoticed until it's too late.
For Jennifer Stouffer, every step forward now feels like a gift.
"It's one of those things that we take for granted...until the day you can't breathe,” she said.
It was seven years ago the busy mom of two came down with what she thought was a run of the mill cold. Her doctor prescribed an inhaler but an entire year later, that nagging cough was still there and getting worse.
"It was like every breath I took was a struggle,” Stouffer said. “I couldn't take my daughter to school any longer. I couldn't work. You're laying in a hospital bed and thinking what is going on?"
After months of testing, doctors finally diagnosed her with a rare condition called “popcorn lung.” It made breathing nearly impossible.
Shortly after, her name was added to the waitlist for a double lung transplant.
Stouffer lived with an oxygen tank for six years before the day she finally got the call.
"It was surreal,” she said. “Someone else lost their life but you're able to go on. It's a pretty incredible thing to think about."
Thanks to that donor, Stouffer is now moving forward, one step at a time and making good on a promise to her doctors to walk at The American Lung Association's Lung Force Walk as a survivor.
"For a lot of these people who are currently in recovery or still on oxygen, this is their marathon,” American Lung Association's Kristen Young said. “It is wonderful to see survivors out there sharing their story.”
Stouffer's breathing is still labored but it's more than enough to fill her lungs and heart with both oxygen and gratitude.