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Chris Smith: Santa Rosa man kept his promises to the fellow lung cancer patient he’d loved

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Don Stranathan has died.

The Santa Rosan passed having kept his promises to the woman he loved eternally though not for very long, and to everyone impacted by the nation’s deadliest cancer.

In 2012, the PD shared the story of how Don Stranathan connected with a New York woman, Penny Blume, on an online health forum for people dealing with lung cancer. Both had it, stage IV.

Stranathan, then 60, and Blume, then 50, clicked. Both of them divorced parents of two, they communicated online, then by phone.

“For the next few months,” Stranathan once shared, “we chatted every day.” Another time he recalled, “We weren’t looking for a relationship, but we surprised each other.”

Early in 2013, Blume accepted an invitation to meet Stranathan in California. They would soon be inseparable.

“We laugh a lot,” Stranathan said. “The fact is, we are going through this together.”

And said Blume of the new man in her life, “Don’s a really good person, just a really nice guy. He’s very supportive and gives good back rubs.”

In 2013 Stranathan’s lung cancer was fairly stable but Blume’s worsened. She moved to Santa Rosa in October of that year so that she could be with Stranathan, and he could assist her.

They went onto “Good Morning America” to talk of their coming together and their determination to attract more research into lung cancer, which each year in the U.S. kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer combined.

Blume was 51 when she died in January of 2014.

The heartbroken Stranathan said not long afterward, “My last promises to Penny were that I would continue to live life to the fullest and advocate for lung cancer research and awareness.”

And he did.

Stranathan made himself one of the nation’s most knowledgeable and active advocates of improved care for lung cancer and of funding for expanded research. He also made himself freely available to others who struggled with the disease and its stigma as a self-inflicted consequence of smoking.

“What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer,” he told the PD late in 2014. “I can think of six women off the top of my head in this county who have stage IV lung cancer. None of them ever smoked.”

Stranathan filled his life with patient advocacy as he applied much time and great passion to researching, advising and counseling.

“He would stay on the phone for hours with complete strangers,” said Bonnie Addario, co-founder of the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer. “There was nobody that he didn’t drop everything for.

“He was really an iconic lung cancer advocate.”

Kim Norris, president and founder of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, said Stranathan was invaluable as a champion of the message that lung cancer deserves concern and funding commensurate with the havoc it wreaks.

“Don,” Norris said, “was the advocate who was out there spreading the word.”

When he died Feb. 1 at age 67, Stranathan had lived with nonsmall-cell lung cancer for nearly 11 years.

He passed, no doubt, with Penny Blume in his heart and a sense of satisfaction that he’d fulfilled his promises to her.

He once said, “We both understood going into this relationship that neither of us knew how much time we had.

“When you think about it, though, does anyone?”

Services for him will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa.

His son, Michael Stranathan, and daughter Christa Chamberlain Dwight and the rest of his family suggest memorial donations to the GO2 Foundation, the Chris Draft Family Foundation or the LUNGevity Foundation.

FOR YOUR SWEETIE: A true Sonoma County Cupid’s Day tradition returns Friday, when fancily decked-out Santa Rosa High students will fan out in clusters to deliver singing valentines.

For 50 bucks, these stunningly trained and talented kids will go to where your beloved is to serenade her or him and present a card and a rose.

The deadline for ordering a singing telegram at srhschoral.org is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Proceeds will support the SRHS choral department.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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