Lung cancer may have taken the life of Annette Leger, but her mission to help others continues. Those who knew her best describe Leger as a loving woman of great passion, courage and humility — a woman who made it her mission to educate others even as cancer was ravaging her body.
On Sunday, the bicycling event she founded in Albuquerque last year to bring attention to her battle will take place. It’s a testament to the fact that her mission to educate others lives on through the efforts of her family.
“Lung cancer affects predominantly women that are non-smokers,” said Steve Leger, Annette’s brother. “A lot of people have this misconception that it only affects people that have smoked the majority of their lives.”
Leger, 51, grew up in Las Vegas and was the definition of health. She never smoked, and she made her living as a licensed nutritionist. She was an avid bicyclist and skier, and she exercised regularly.
But her healthy lifestyle wasn’t enough to keep lung cancer at bay. It ravaged her body and took her life in late August of last year.
“She was the epitome of a healthy person,” Steve Leger said. “Lung cancer can strike where you least expect it.”
Leger left behind her husband, Steve Katona, daughter, Micaela Patron, son, Daniel Patron, three brothers, two sisters, 16 nieces and nephews, plenty of other relatives and too many friends to count, among them the Tertulia group.
Leger was preceded in death by her parents, Ray Leger and Mela Lucero Leger and brothers Howard and Rando. The matriarch of the Leger family, Mela, also died of lung cancer. She was 78 and a non-smoker.
Leger’s brother, Martin, said many people who have lung cancer go undiagnosed for a long time because the medical community doesn’t screen non-smokers for lung cancer.
Leger was the youngest of seven siblings. She was diagnosed when she was in her late 40s, but had coughing symptoms for roughly a year before her cancer diagnosis. During that year, she was being treated for asthma.
After her cancer diagnosis, Leger waged her own war against the illness. She underwent cutting-edge medical treatments, but the illness eventually took over her body.
While battling lung cancer, Leger realized support groups and medical research funding for the illness were minimal. That inspired her to begin the Free to Breathe Albuquerque Lung Cancer Bike Ride last year. The event raised roughly $45,000 to bring awareness and support to defeat lung cancer.
“For each death in breast cancer there is $14,000 research dollars,” Martin Leger said. “For each death in lung cancer there is about $1,200 in research money.”
Leger’s death was devastating for her family. As the youngest of the seven siblings, she was the anchor of the tight-knit group. So it’s not surprising that they are continuing her legacy.
Martin Leger coordinated this year’s Free to Breathe event, taking on the role his sister had last year.
“The event was a hope for her to keep moving, keep living and of course a hope for others that there will be a cure for it,” Martin Leger said. “A big part of the event is awareness.”
This year’s event will begin at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. The event includes a 20-mile, 10-mile and a 6-mile bike ride along the Rio Grande Bosque.
Event day registration starts at 8:30 a.m., followed by a welcome rally, bike rides, closing rally and closing comments. There is also a silent auction for the event. Proceeds go to the National Lung Cancer Partnership.
Local band Los Tropicales, which Steve Leger is a member of, will provide musical entertainment for the event, along with Albuquerque-based band Los Radiators.
Martin Leger said last year’s event had nearly 300 bike riders.
“A lot of people that went to the ride have been affected by lung cancer,” Martin said. “I’ve heard from various people that are traveling to attend this year’s event.”
Steve Leger said his sister wanted to bring awareness to lung cancer and about how important it is to be tested.
“We miss her tremendously,” he said.
The family is entering a team in this year’s event named in honor of their mother, Mela, a pioneer in New Mexico. She founded one the nation’s first multi-cultural schools. The family’s team is called “Mela’s Reading Writing Riders,” and the Legers ask that anyone interested in donating to the cause consider doing so in their team’s name.
To donate or for more information, contact Martin Leger at 505-660-7639. Additional information about Free to Breathe is available on the web at freetobreathe.com.
“The event itself is really to help prevent lung cancer,” Martin Leger said. “Not only did Annette go through it but also the whole family. If Annette would have been diagnosed early she might still be here.”