Two runs this weekend support breast, prostate cancer survivors

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2001

Fear still dominates some of her days since Bryn Nelson was rediagnosed with breast cancer in February.

Nelson's current treatment appears to be working, and she conquered her first round of cancer when it was diagnosed in March 1999, living free of the illness for a year. But there are still days where Nelson wonders what's going to happen to her or her two children, ages 9 and 13.

"It's not easy doing this," she said. "It's so frightening. I don't want to die. It's frustrating and scary. But you have to keep thinking, 'I'm going to beat this.' "

Nelson will be one of the guest speakers during the 10th anniversary "Beat the Odds" Women's Race Against Breast Cancer at 9 a.m. Saturday at Mendenhall River Community School.

A 17-year resident of Juneau who just moved to Spokane, Wash., last week, Nelson returned especially for the race. Many of the roughly 700 women expected to enter the event will wear paper hearts honoring friends and family members who have battled breast cancer.

"I feel real strongly that people who have been through cancer can help other people know cancer is not a death sentence," said Nelson, 48. "I think of all these women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and have been living for years after treatment," she said.

In conjunction with the "Beat the Odds" race, the Sixth Annual Prostate Cancer Run/Walk for men takes place at 8 a.m. Saturday at Mendenhall River Community School. It is expected to draw about 80 men. Both races feature a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) running course and a 2-mile walking course.

The "Beat the Odds" race was started 10 years ago by Ron and Cathy Bressette after Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. They passed the race on to the Southeast Road Runners club and the Glacier Valley Rotary Club six years ago when it became too big for them to handle.

The race helps promote breast cancer awareness, and to serve as a support network for survivors and family and friends of people diagnosed with breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society said women have a one-in-eight chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetimes, and the risk increases with age. Nelson said women should have a baseline mammogram by the time they turn 40, and a mammogram at least once every two years until they turn 50 when they need to get a yearly mammogram. Women also need to do self-examinations, which is how Nelson found her cancer.

"It's an epidemic, breast cancer is," Nelson said. "Since I was diagnosed, I've known 10 people who were diagnosed. My sister was diagnosed in February as well, my baby sister. That's what makes it really scary. My little sister's cancer was found so early she needed no treatment (other than a lumpectomy). She's a poster child for mammograms."

Over the past three years, the "Beat the Odds" race helped raise $31,000 for local organizations that help fight cancer, with race director George Elgee figuring the race raises $9,000 to $13,000 a year.

Last year the race contributed funds for travel costs of patients, mammograms for woman without health insurance, cancer kits for newly diagnosed patients, and to establish a 24-hour answering service with information and treatment referrals, said Shawn Paul of the Glacier Valley Rotary Club, which sponsors the race.

The exact figures weren't available for money raised by the much smaller prostate cancer run. But co-director Peggy Ann McConnochie, who puts on the race with her husband, John, said the money raised stays in Juneau.

She said the money helps Juneau men get prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests to screen for prostate cancer if the men don't have insurance and can't afford the tests. She said some money goes toward promoting prostate cancer awareness.

"Mike Miller started this race after he got diagnosed and went through his initial treatments," said McConnochie, who added that her father's father died of prostate cancer. "He started this race because if the women were getting together to help the awareness of breast cancer, the same might work for prostate cancer awareness."

Miller, a former Juneau-Douglas High School swim coach, was diagnosed with prostate cancer about eight years ago and given less than a year to live. Miller has survived and become one of the state's leading advocates of prostate cancer awareness. Miller recently moved to Portland, Ore., to be closer to his doctors after a relapse.

"It's been interesting, because when we first started the race we struggled to get people to talk about it. But if we can get people to get tested, we feel we've done our jobs. Once you hit the age of 40 you need to get a PSA test," she said.

*****

Charles Bingham can be reached at cbingham@juneauempire.com.



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