At first glance, the scene looked like the start of an ordinary, if rather large, yoga class. Dozens of women and a few men sat on yoga mats, preparing to inhale and exhale and greet the sun.
But messages affixed to the backs of many participants made clear this was a special event. "I am doing yoga in memory of Deborah Goodman, my mom," read Marjorie Goodman's message.
"My mom died of lung cancer 16 years ago," she explained. "It's an insidious disease. I'm here to support this cause."
Goodman joined about a hundred others Sunday for the second-annual Free to Breathe Yogathon at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville. Many of them took part in memory of a loved one.
As a group, participants performed one "sun salutation" after the other. Each took about a minute, and the goal was to carry out 108 of the taxing salutations during the afternoon.
"In yogic philosophy, 108 is completion, it's a full number," said co-organizer Elissa Sachs-Kohen. A rabbi at the congregation, she lost her mother to lung cancer in 2008, just 10 weeks after her diagnosis.
The event's purpose was to raise money and awareness. Registration cost $30 to $35 per person, though many raised additional money.
Lung cancer is the top cancer killer of men and women in Maryland, according to the National Lung Cancer Partnership. Better screening tools and more research are needed, Sachs-Kohen said, and that requires money.
Lung cancer has long had an image problem, participants said.
"Despite its tremendous impact on national health, it hasn't been a popular disease," Dr. Martin Edelman, a University of Maryland oncologist, told the gathering before the yoga began. "That's partially because of the thought that, well, people who get it deserve it — they were smokers."
But he said many other diseases "come with lifestyle issues." And 10 percent to 15 percent of those who contract lung cancer never smoked. With 220,000 cases of lung cancer a year, that translates to 20,000 to 30,000 nonsmokers a year being diagnosed nationally with the disease, he said.
Edelman and Dr. Mayer Gorbaty of Northwest Hospital did point to major strides in treatment over the past 20 years. Gorbaty referred to a study released last week that found CT scans can reduce deaths by 20 percent in older, heavy smokers by detecting tumors earlier.
Lung cancer killed an estimated 159,390 people in 2009, according to the National Cancer Institute — more people than were killed by breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer combined. Edelman said more women die from lung cancer than breast and colon cancer combined.
In Pikesville, cheers greeted two lung cancer survivors who took turns at the microphone. Lois Levin of Bethesda and Judy Markoe of Washington both said they felt lucky to be standing there: Their cancer was detected early.
Markoe, 64, was diagnosed five years ago in "a fluke." In an interview, she said a doctor ordered a chest X-ray because he thought her ankle swelling might be the result of congestive heart failure. The X-ray came back negative for that but revealed a spot on her lung.
Fortunately for her, the cancer was caught in its earliest stage. She had surgery and has had no recurrence.
Markoe said she began smoking as a teenager but stopped by her mid-20s. Her diagnosis came 35 years after she quit. "It's a terrible stigma," she said of the disease, "and it's not fair."