Hats put face on cancer

Survivors wear white caps at "Beat the Odds" breast cancer race

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

There was a new course for Saturday's 13th annual "Beat the Odds" Women's Run Against Breast Cancer and the ninth annual Prostate Cancer Run/Walk, but another change may have had a bigger impact for the two events that raise money for cancer awareness.

As women registered for the "Beat the Odds" race, about four dozen of them were given white baseball hats with a pink ribbon. They were the breast cancer survivors.

"It really is inspiring," said Pat Yearty, who sported one of the hats. "The women are wearing them with pride. There's a woman over there who's an over-30-year survivor."

"It's a way to identify," said Virginia Smiley, another survivor who was a guest speaker before last year's race. "It's a way to look over the crowd and to notice all the survivors."

Shawn Miller won the prostate cancer run for men in a time of 15 minutes, 59 seconds for the 5-kilometer course (3.1 miles), beating runner-up Mike Crotteau (17:21) and third-place finisher John Bursell (17:33) by more than a minute. The women's breast cancer race was won by Susie Burger in 20:00, with Erin Mitchell second (20:32) and Debbie Groves third (20:38).

But the first-place finishers weren't the main story of these races. The main story was the people in the white hats.

"It was hard to compete after the (prerace) speakers because my heart was going for them," Burger said. "My emotions were flowing. But this was nice. It helps hold the community together."

"It's a good cause," Miller said.

The two races raise money for Cancer Connection. The group - formerly known as the Southeast Alaska Cancer and Wellness Foundation - provides information, support systems and help obtaining treatment for regional residents and families affected by cancer. Last year the "Beat the Odds" race raised between $15,000 and $16,000, and this year those totals were exceeded before race registration was complete.

But one of the biggest parts of the two runs is getting the word out about early detection and making sure people know when to get their screenings for breast and prostate cancers.

"It's a mammogram that saved my life," survivor Sandi Hicks said during her prerace speech. "I was lucky. I had early detection and parts are replaceable. My cancer was not invasive."

Recent figures from various cancer groups say about one out of every nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is about the same figure for men and prostate cancer. About 210,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and about 230,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer (about 200 in Alaska).

Having the white hats for the breast cancer survivors helped put a face on those statistics. Charlotte Pape, a 34-year breast cancer survivor, said the hats also helped people realize that being diagnosed doesn't mean a death sentence.

"This is great to be able to get together and share our experiences," said Pape, who was 31 years old when she learned she had breast cancer. "Thirty-four years ago, when I was diagnosed, people were very secretive about it. It could affect your employment and there was a lot of stigma associated with having breast cancer."

Some of the breast cancer survivors chose not to wear the white hats, not wanting to go public about having had the cancer. A few others chose to wear the black hats of Team Survivor Perseverance, while some wore the team jackets and the white hats. Team Survivor Perseverance is a group of cancer survivors, doctors and support people who will have three relay teams - one running and two walking - in next weekend's Klondike "Trail of '98" International Road Relay from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

"We're our own traveling party," Smiley said.

Speaking of traveling, survivor Kaye V. Ladd of Olympia, Wash., and Karen Lichtenstein, who was Ladd's support person during her chemotherapy, are attempting to enter breast cancer races in every state. Saturday's race gave them their 19th state. Ladd was on an experimental treatment that she said was successful.

The prostate cancer run for men is younger, and it's still going through some adjustments in its role opposite the breast cancer race. This year the attendance was down to about half of the expected 100-150 runners (the breast cancer race had about 500-550), but co-race organizer Fred Baxter said some of that could be due to the weather. Baxter teamed up with Lou Edwards, a recent prostate cancer survivor, to organize the men's race.

"I volunteered for years," said Edwards, who had surgery to remove his prostate on Aug. 20, 2003. Last month, Edwards was back in the hospital having surgery on a detached retina. "My eye surgery hurt worse than my prostate."

Corey McKrill is a recent college graduate who was running the race in honor of his father, local runner Dr. Mike McKrill, who also ran the race Saturday. While he was in school, Corey McKrill said he followed the race. But he was happy to be able to run with his father now that the elder McKrill has been cured.

"My dad's kind of the poster child for early detection," Corey McKrill said of his father, whose cancer was caught so early it was treated in outpatient fashion. "That happened to him when I was a senior in high school. I'm really glad he was able to catch it early. It was pretty stressful when it happened."

As for the race, McKrill said he likes the way it brings the cancer out in the open.

"It's cool to have a race for it," McKrill said. "Prostate cancer is not as talked about as breast cancer. It just doesn't get talked about."

Race results will run in the Empire later this week.

• Charles Bingham can be reached at charles.bingham@juneauempire.com.

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