In 2017 Erika Hlavacek was 42 years old, a mother of two and former airline pilot. She was in the best physical condition that she had been in years and could never have anticipated the shocking news that lay ahead. Over the summer she developed a cough which was treated as allergies and some mild back pain that she assumed was from exercise. Surprisingly the cough didn’t resolve with treatment and the back pain increased rapidly to the point that she ended up in the ER. She was admitted to the hospital and on September 29, after a 10-day stay, received her diagnosis: Stage IV Lung Cancer.
She was found to have a form of lung cancer that responded to cutting-edge chemotherapy medications. These had only been approved a few months before her diagnosis. This chemo was so effective that the tumors shrunk and, although she still had side effects, she was able to resume a relatively normal life. You would never guess that she had advanced stage cancer.
Erika was trying her best to live her life, when eighteen months after her diagnosis she received another shock; her husband, Jeff, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. This required him to have surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and added caregiver to Erikaʼs title of survivor.
While Jeff was undergoing chemotherapy, Erika had progression to her brain, meaning that the cancer had spread, and she began the next targeted treatment. This treatment was also very new, having just been approved a few months before. The new chemo has been effective and is continuing to keep her alive.
Erika is on her second targeted treatment, and that is currently the last one available. When it stops working, her options are limited. Research made these treatments possible.
In the time since her diagnosis, Erika has become an advocate for lung cancer research. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women but receives significantly less funding than other cancers. This lack of funding makes raising money for research an actual life or death undertaking. It falls upon patient advocates to raise these funds.
Since her diagnosis, Erika has realized that she needed to be living her best life everyday. During a girls’ weekend she was surprised with matching shirts that said “Best Life” on them. This inspired her to design a “Live Your Best Life” themed shirt for an upcoming event. The design was so well-received that she decided to sell them as a fundraiser for lung cancer research.
The success of this fundraiser helped Erika see the potential giving opportunities available selling merchandise and holding events using the “Best Life” mantra. This is what inspired her to start yEAHbestlife as a brand and non-profit dedicated to fundraising for lung cancer research. She expanded her offerings of merchandise focusing on her theme and is making yEAHbestlife.org the home of all of her fundraising efforts.
yEAHbestlife is the culmination of a dream – to give lung cancer a voice and create an entity to support life saving research and start a legacy of giving and advocacy.