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Two runs and related walks take place Saturday morning to raise public awareness of specific forms of cancer.
The Prostate Cancer Run kicks off at 8 a.m., followed an hour later by the Beat the Odds Breast Cancer Run. Both are competitive, but are paired with walks for those who want a more leisurely pace.
Beat the Odds attracted about 750 people in 1999, said organizer George Elgee, a member of the Southeast Roadrunners and the Glacier Valley Rotary, whose 80 members are coordinating the event. Beat the Odds was founded by Cathy and Ray Bresette. Three years ago, Cathy tapped Elgee to replace her.
"My mom got breast cancer that same year, and so did one of my business partners" at Elgee, Rehfeld and Funk (certified public accountants), Elgee said. "Breast cancer touches everybody's life in one way or another."
National health organizations stress the sobering statistic that one in nine women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
"It strikes women of all ages," said Elgee, "as opposed to prostate cancer, which strikes older men."
The breast cancer event begins about 9 a.m. at Mendenhall River Elementary School. Runners do a 5-kilometer course, heading toward Auke Bay and then down the Mendenhall River Trail. Walkers head for the Mendenhall Glacier. Both courses loop back to the school.
The $15 registration fee pays for 600 commemorative T-shirts distributed to participants. If any money is left over, it is distributed among agencies such as the Southeast Cancer Society, a fund at Bartlett Regional Hospital for free mammograms and a cancer support group, Elgee said.
"This is not a fund-raiser but strictly an awareness event to convince people to get regular checkups," Elgee said, "although we do raise funds through 37 sponsors who pay for advertising, printing, transportation. All the members of my accounting staff are involved. Gastineau Human Services is helping wrap T-shirts. All kinds of people pitch in."
Because he's a runner, dentist Mike McKrill first ran the prostate cancer race "just because it was a race." Now he takes it more personally.
"Two years ago, just after the race, I had a checkup. I was perfectly healthy and had no indication of a problem, but I was diagnosed (at 53) with prostate cancer. So now I run it with a different perspective."
Men tend to "be in denial about this kind of thing," McKrill said, " so we need to spread the word about checkups."
In the next year, 200 Alaskans will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 18 of them will die from the disease, said John McConnochie, one of four co-directors of the Prostate Cancer Run.
Alaskans now have an advantage in the fight against prostate cancer because of action taken by the Legislature.
"Alaska has become the first state in the union where men who are at risk or of African-American descent (who are more prone to the disease than other racial groups) can be covered by health insurance for testing at age 35," said McConnochie. "Men not in those two groups are covered by insurance from age 40."
In terms of public awareness, "prostate cancer is where breast cancer was 20 years ago before Betty Ford spoke out and it became part of daily conversation," McConnochie, 46, said.
Prostate cancer can invade without symptoms. Therefore, "It's important that men over 50, in particular, get a PSA (a blood test for the prostate cancer antigen) and a digital exam every year," he said.
Pre-registration for the Prostate Cancer Run begins at 7 a.m. at Mendenhall River School. Fees are $12 for adults; $8 for kids 12 and under. The first 75 to register get a free T-shirt. Pre-registration can be accomplished today at both locations of the Juneau Racquet Club and the Foggy Mountain Shop. Both a 5-K run and a two-mile walk are scheduled.
More information on the prostate cancer run is available from McConnochie at 789-2181 or 586-3641. More information on the breast cancer run is available from Elgee at 789-3178.