Rachael Kling is able to rattle off the date her fiancé was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer — Oct. 17, 2011 — as readily as she is the month the Roxborough couple got engaged — July 2012.
Sitting side-by-side, Marc Kuchler and Kling complete each other’s sentences about everything from their upcoming wedding to the complicated medical treatment 30-year-old Kuchler has undergone since being diagnosed.
Kuchler was a non-smoking, otherwise-healthy 28-year-old when he went to the University of Pennsylvania emergency room one night in Aug. 2011 complaining of pelvic pain.
Two months and a slew of tests later, doctors told him he was facing advanced lung cancer.
A little more than two years after that day, he is looking forward to participating in his third “Free to Breathe” race, a 5K run designed to raise money for research.
By the time Kuchler was diagnosed, the cancer had spread past his lungs and into his lower back and right shoulder. All the while, he didn’t feel any symptoms besides back pain that he chalked up to the after effects of working out.
While the pain that originally sent him to the ER ended up being unrelated, the tests doctors performed drew their eyes to a spot on his lungs.
‘Normalcy amongst the chaos’
Kuchler and Kling have met just a couple of other lung-cancer patients around their age. That’s for good reason: Just 0.3 percent of new cases are diagnosed in patients between the ages of 20 and 34, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Today, after radiation treatment, a surgery, two sets of “harsh chemotherapy” and a clinical trial, Kuchler regularly undergoes “maintenance chemo” treatments to help prevent the growth of his cancer. His days are “mostly good.”
“My doctors don’t like to use the term ‘cured’ or ‘remission,'” said Kuchler. “Some people have this mentality with it, like, ‘Oh, you’re going to beat this,’ but no, I’m never going to. It’s always going to be in my body, and it’s just learning to deal with it and hoping it stays stable.”
They hope that research being done at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital on Kuchler’s specific genetic mutation — EGFR Exon 20 — will lead to a viable treatment option soon.
The couple jokes that treatments are available for EGFR Exon 19 and EGFR Exon 21, but not 20.
Both have continued to work full time.
Kling, a project manager at the Federal Reserve, was in the midst of completing an MBA program at Temple University when Kuchler, who works in construction management, was diagnosed.
She considered exiting the program but instead doubled up on courses to finish two terms early.
“I really think it helped us because we always had other things to think about. I was always working and so was she,” said Kuchler.
“It helped us maintain normalcy amongst the chaos,” continued Kling.
Since Kuchler’s diagnosis, the couple has been on a crusade to bring awareness to this deadliest form of cancer — the National Cancer Institute estimates that lung cancer will kill 159,480 people this year.
Just two and a half weeks after Kuchler’s diagnosis, the couple participated in their first “Free to Breathe” run.
They signed up the day of the race and brought members of Kuchler’s family along.
Just one year later, they brought a team of 197 participants and $32,000 they had raised throughout the year to the race.
Their team, “Miles for Marc,” will be back at this year’s “Free to Breathe” race on Sunday.
While they haven’t managed to raise quite as much money as they did last year, the team is nearing $20,000.
The couple’s story “goes to show just how wrong the common misperception about lung cancer is — it is not ‘just a smoker’s disease,'” said Johanna Kilbride, Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership spokesperson.
In honor of their wedding, set for less than a month away on Nov. 23, Kuchler and Kling have vowed to participate in the race in a tuxedo and wedding dress if they both reach their individual fundraising goal — $5,000.
The couple plans to marry in New Hope, where Kling’s family resides, and to honeymoon in Fiji.
“I’m not going to think for one second about lung cancer when I am sitting on a beach,” said Kling. “We are excited to feel normal for a bit.”
The Philadelphia “Free to Breathe” 5K benefiting lung cancer research will take place on Nov. 3 and begins and ends at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. Visit the Miles for Marc fundraising page to contribute to the team’s fundraising efforts.