Shelah Moody, Chronicle Staff Writer, December 30, 2007
Bonnie J. Addario is a lung cancer survivor and founder of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. Photographed in San Carlos on 12/18/07. Deanne Fitzmaurice / The Chronicle Mandatory credit for photographer and San Francisco Chronicle. No Sales/Magazines out. Photo: Deanne Fitzmaurice
Bonnie J. Addario broke barriers by becoming one of the country’s top female oil company executives. Now, she is parlaying her professional prowess into running one of the country’s largest lung-cancer foundations
Twenty-two years ago, with just a high school education, Addario started out as a secretary and administrative assistant at Olympian Oil Company in South San Francisco. She eventually rose to the ranks of president and owner.
“I started at the company when they were really small, so everything that happened there came across my desk,” said Addario, 60. “I was just like a little sponge and just kind of soaked it all up. As the company grew, they kept giving me more and more responsibility, and one day I was running it.”
Addario served as president of Olympian Oil for seven years. But her life changed when she felt a shooting pain across her chest. Accompanied by her husband of 25 years, Tony Addario, she went in for a full-body scan and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. Addario, who smoked for more than 20 years, retired from Olympian Oil to focus on her recovery. Her treatment included chemotherapy, radiation and the removal of a tumor and portion of her lung.
David Jablons was one of the four doctors who performed Addario’s surgery at UCSF. Because Addario asked so many questions while she was under his care, Jablons asked Addario to become a member of his thoracic advisory board.
“I was just outraged about the lung cancer statistics, about the fact that 450 people a day die just in the United States,” Addario said. “Nineteen people die per hour and 1.3 million die every year. I couldn’t believe all these things were happening and that (lung cancer research) was underfunded, under-researched and diagnosed, more often than not, too late. Most people who have lung cancer are diagnosed at stage four, and they don’t live longer than three or four months.”
A key goal of the organization, she said, is to inform nonsmokers that they also are at risk for the disease, since she has found that many mistakenly believe that only smokers are at risk.
Two years ago, she started the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. The San Francisco foundation promotes early detection, research, treatment and prevention. This year, it raised more than $1 million, which was used to create a public-awareness campaign with advertisements designed for Muni buses and the New York City subway.
The foundation has four paid staff members, 14 members on its board of directors and more than 100 volunteers across the country – including many members of Addario’s family.
“My children and sons-in-law and daughter-in law have all done so much,” she said. “They have sent out personal letters, assisted with the golf tournaments and galas, collected auction items, done fundraisers at their places of work . . . just about anything they could do.”
Among her many accomplishments, Addario is particularly proud of the November gala at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, which was attended by 650 people and raised $800,000 for the foundation. That day, Addario also organized a Summit for Survival that was attended by medical professionals from around the world.
Though her battle with lung cancer has not slowed her down in terms of running the foundation, she acknowledges that it is harder for her to breathe; she uses three inhalers. She’s also had to limit her activities such as speed walking and bicycling. Addario’s message to lung cancer survivors and lung cancer patients is that help is on the way and that early detection, preferably a CT scan, is key.
“Lung cancer is just beginning to be on the radar screen,” Addario said. “Help is on the way, for treatment, for everything. Research dollars are growing, not by leaps and bounds. We have a long way to go.”