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NYU Says, “What Seven Year Itch?”

According to the classic Marilyn Monroe comedy The Seven Year Itch, the steam can supposedly go out of a relationship when it reaches the seven-year point.  Fortunately, that phenomenon doesn’t apply to the relationship between the New York University College of Dentistry and the Oral Cancer Foundation, as the school’s recently-completed 7th Annual Oral Cancer Walk raised more money than any walk in the Foundation’s history.

The lead organizer of the 2012 walk was Devin Kuller, a fourth-year student due to graduate from dental school only a few weeks after the April 28 event.  Devin began his involvement with the walk by helping to unload supplies as a first-year student, and he took on increasingly more responsibility over the years.  “I did the bare minimum my first year,” said Devin, “but the bare minimum isn’t enough.  If you’re really going to give back, you have to do more.”  And more is exactly what he did.  Despite a hectic class schedule, for several months leading up to the walk Devin ran meetings of his organizing team every two weeks, and for the last month they met on a weekly basis.

Devin is quick to credit his team for the walk’s success, particularly his “right-hand person”—Alexis Cohen—and seven other “core” members who attended every meeting.  He also relied very heavily on Dr. Ross Kerr, a highly popular NYU professor who has been the walk’s long-time patron, and Glenn Marrus, Assistant Dean of Quality Control for the College of Dentistry.  “As he does every year, Dr. Kerr provided tremendously helpful advice and inspiration,” said Devin.  “He’s also a fabulous professor, although his Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and Radiology course cut into my sleep at least as much as organizing the walk did!”  Devin has equal praise for Dean Marrus, who handled the logistics of securing the necessary approvals from the NYPD, signing insurance release forms, obtaining parade permits, and more.

One of the distinctive features of the NYU walk is that the location changes every year in an attempt to reach as many New Yorkers as possible.  In recent years walks have taken place in Harlem and the Bronx, so this year’s venue was Manhattan.  The starting point for the walk was the College of Dentistry, which is located on 24th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  The course took walkers through a variety of streets and neighborhoods, including Gramercy Park, Broadway, Lexington Avenue and Washington Square, near NYU’s main campus in Greenwich Village.

Making this 3.5 mile trek were approximately 600 people, many of whom were students and faculty from other New York-area  schools and facilities, including Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine and Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center.

Following the walk, people gathered in an outdoor plaza behind the dental school.  There refreshments were served while the head of NYU’s Audio Visual Department played the role of deejay.  Speakers included oral cancer survivor Kevin Ferrara.  Kevin told how his oral cancer required disfiguring jaw and neck surgery because it was not diagnosed until 18 months after he first noticed a lesion, and he urged the audience to not let his fate befall them.

Few dental schools are as focused on the cause of early detection of oral cancer as the NYU College of Dentistry “When we examine patients in the school’s Admission Clinic, we are really encouraged to perform comprehensive head and neck cancer exams,” said Devin Kuller.  “Most patients tell me they’ve never had an exam like that before.  And that’s unfortunate, because with the growth in the number of oral cancer cases being caused by the human papillomavirus, everyone should be receiving this kind of exam on an annual basis.”

The NYU College of Dentistry teaches its students not only how to properly examine their patients, but also how to give back.  And in light of the fact that the 7th Annual NYU Oral Cancer Walk raised over $36,000 for the Oral Cancer Foundation—more than any walk in the country has ever generated for the Foundation—it is clear that Devin Kuller and his fellow students are learning quite well. 

And they don’t believe in “the seven-year itch.”

Baltimore Walks to Make Oral Cancer History, and to Honor “Poppy”

On April 14, 2012, the Student National Dental Association (SNDA) chapter of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry held its fourth annual “Walk to Make Oral Cancer History.”  This year’s walk was particularly special, as it was dedicated to Rachel “Poppy” Kahan, a 27-year-old stage 4 oral cancer patient who had undergone extensive chemotherapy, radiation and surgery during the past year.

The lead organizer of the event was the president of SNDA, Kaisha Thomas, a very busy third-year student at the School of Dentistry.  Having served as a volunteer two years ago and an organizer last year, Kaisha was well aware of what it takes to orchestrate such an event.  And, with the help of approximately 20 volunteers from her school, Kaisha was able to put on what was by far the school’s most successful fundraiser yet.

The event took place at Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, which features a lake surrounded by a track that made for the perfect venue for the 5K walk/run.  Of the estimated 140 people who turned out for the event, many were students and faculty members of the School of Dentistry, while many others were friends and family of Rachel Kahan.  Rachel’s supporters, clad in the green of her beloved Michigan State University alma mater, organized a walk-within-the-walk they called “Parade for Poppy.”

There are many costs associated with putting on a charity walk, including a park rental fee, chair and table rental fees, insurance fees, and food and beverage expenses.  To fund these costs, Kaisha and her SNDA team organized a “Scrubs Sale” in the fall of 2011.  For $38, a School of Dentistry student or faculty member could purchase a set of scrubs with her or his name embroidered.  The $3,000 profit resulting from the sale of over 200 sets of scrubs covered most of the event’s costs, including pre-walk refreshments for all participants and a barbeque after the walk.

Several people and sponsors donated prizes for the top fundraisers.  This included a gift certificate provided by a walker whose husband had recently died of oral cancer.  The top three fundraisers were Erica Cornu Knessi (whose father was an oral cancer victim), Lisa Spinoso and Sarah Mars Bowie. 

After Kaisha Thomas presented the prizes to the three winners, Dr. Robert Ord, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon form the University of Maryland Medical Center, spoke to the crowd about his extensive experience conducting head and neck cancer surgeries.  His words drove home just how severe the treatment for late stage oral cancer can be, and how critical it is to discover the disease at earlier and, better yet, precancerous stages.

Following the walk, third and fourth year students from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry gave oral cancer screenings under the supervision of Dr. Andrea Morgan, and those who were screened were given toothbrushes and toothpaste courtesy of the Children’s Oral Health Institute.  In addition, Dr. Michael Knorr from Wal-Mart vision gave eye exams to all interested participants.

Clearly, however, the highlight of the event was the appearance of a smiling “Poppy”.  Though confined to a wheelchair and dealing with the effects on her on-going chemotherapy treatments, she was a powerful inspiration to all in attendance. Just the day before the event, she had posted a message on her blog providing readers with helpful information regarding the time and location of the walk.  Sadly, two weeks later, she passed away.

According to Kaisha Thomas, several oral cancer survivors attended the event.  “They were all women, they were all non-smokers, and they all developed oral cancer at a young age,” she said.  “I used to think of oral cancer as a disease that just affected older men who smoked or chewed tobacco, but that’s clearly not the case any more.”  As Kaisha points out, the fastest-growing cause of oral cancer today is the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV.  As a result, a growing percentage of oral cancer’s victims are like Rachel Kahan:  young females who do not use tobacco.

It is a fitting and touching testament to “Poppy” that this year’s event raised over $14,000, more than had been raised in the prior three events combined.  The key to reducing the number of young women who it the future are afflicted with the disease that took Rachel Kahan’s life is increasing the public’s awareness of the need for regular oral cancer screenings.  Fortunately, thanks to the extraordinary passion and efforts of people like Kaisha Thomas, impressive progressive is being achieved toward the goal of “making oral cancer history”--one footstep at a time.

A Big Band Serenades Another Big Success in Chattanooga

No one can say that Jeanna Rachelson doesn’t know how to throw a party.  Or a great fundraiser.

For the third straight year, the stage 4 oral cancer survivor organized a hugely successful Chattanooga Oral Cancer Awareness Walk.  This year’s walk, which took place on April 28, combined elements that have proved successful in the past with elements that gave the event a new, fresh feeling.

As was the case for the past two years, the event was emceed by former Mrs. Tennessee International Cydney Miller, a staunch oral cancer awareness advocate.  emceed for the 3rd year in a row. And, as in 2011, the event was held at the First Tennessee Pavillion, and the 2-mile walk took participants past the world famous “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  And once again, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield declared the day of the walk “Oral Cancer Awareness Day.”

Once again, Jeanna was able to procure many great silent auction and raffle items, include a dinner for eight at Bonefish Grill.  And once again, the single largest donation was made by Jeanna’s favorite customer at Siskin Steel, where she just celebrated 15 years of employment.

Perhaps the biggest change from the first two walks was the appearance of Chattanooga’s most popular big band, Sweet Georgia Sound. The band’s leader, Mike Laroche, is an oral cancer survivor.  Jeanna’s pre-walk advertising told participants to bring their running shoes and their dancing shoes, and in fact many did exactly that.

Another special aspect of this year’s walk was the fact that it was dedicated to the late Chip Lewis, an oral cancer victim.  The walk, which was attended by his family, was kicked off with a massive release of helium-filled blue balloons to honor Chip and his favorite color.

Dr. Peter Hunt, and ENT surgeon who has operated on many oral cancer patients, spoke to the crowd about early detection of the disease.  Following that, oral cancer screenings were provided by Dr. Jill Hodges and three husband-and-wife dentist teams: Dr. Marie Farrar and Dr. Mitch Baldree; Dr. Mandy and Dr. Bob Shearer; and Dr. Angela and Dr. Riley Lunn.

The event was also attended by the Oral Cancer Foundation’s New Jersey-based Event Coordinator Susan Lauria and her husband Harry.   “I was thrilled to be able to see Susan again and to meet her husband,” said Jeanna.  “Without her help, we would never have achieved the things we have over the past three years.”

And without Jeanna’s help, the cause of oral cancer awareness would never have advanced as far as in has among the residents of Chattanooga.  Moreover, the Oral Cancer Foundation would not have received a contribution of over $24,000, bringing Jeanna’s three-year fundraising total to over $62,000.

Impressively, her accomplishments are being recognized not just locally, but on a national level.  Jeanna recently was named a winner of the prestigious Jefferson Award, which honors exceptional community and public volunteers across the country.  She’ll receive the award at a June ceremony in Washington, DC, accompanied by the person who nominated her for the award:  her husband Robert.

Jeanna Rachelson is a very special person.  Her husband gets that.  So do the people at the Jefferson Awards.  And so does the Oral Cancer Foundation.

It Ain’t Braggin’ If You Can Do It!

Minutes after raising over $17,000 for the Oral Cancer Foundation during Nashville’s “Boot Scootin’ for Oral Cancer Screening III” walk one year ago, lead event organizer Nicki Raines predicted that the 2012 event would raise more than $20,000.  Well, the results are in, and—sure enough—the April 14 “Boot Scootin’ for Oral Cancer Screening IV” walk raised $21,703.

As in 2011, Nicki and her two co-organizers (and fellow hygienists)—Ellen Crosby and Holly Hill—employed their highly creative “flocking” tactic. In the weeks leading up to the walk, they planted flocks of plastic flamingos in front of dozens of Nashville-area dental practices after the practices had closed.  As they came to work the next morning, the unsuspecting dental staff, as well as their patients, were welcomed by numerous flamingos, a sign saying “You’ve been flocked!” and supplies of pamphlets, buttons and other Oral Cancer Foundation materials promoting the need for regular oral cancer screenings.  Practices were charged a “removal fee” of $25 for removing the flamingos, and a “removal and relocation fee” for transplanting them in front of another dental practice of their choice. Most of these practices ended up not only happily paying the “removal and relocation fee,” but supporting the walk by either attending the event, donating to it, or both.

In fact, this year’s walk witnessed such great involvement from Nashville-area dental practices and other teams that Nicki, Ellen and Holly decided to give out some special awards.  In recognition of bringing the most team members (25), Embassy Dental awarded gold trophy boots.  Pamela Dedman, VP of Operations for this group dental practice, was instrumental in coordinating this impressive turnout.  Members of Team Veaz, named for oral cancer survivor—and walker John Garrett Veazey, Jr., were awarded “specially decorated and colorfully tacky” cowboy hats for raising over $5,000. And members of Team Whitefield were awarded stuffed flamingos for their matching “Flocking for Oral Cancer Awareness” t-shirts that won them the award for the best team spirit.

All in all, a remarkable 324 people participated in the event, either by walking, donating online, or writing sponsorship checks.   Of this total, 123 people participated in the 5K walk, and 40 of them received oral cancer exams conducted by Embassy Dental and members of the Nashville Area Dental Hygienists Society (NADHS) using the VELscope oral cancer screening device.  Suspicious lesions were detected for four of these people, who were referred to specialists for follow-up exams.

Speaking to the attendees prior to the walk were Christine Brader, a highly inspirational three-time oral cancer survivor, and Mr. Veazey.  Auction and raffle items included prints of local artist Kelly O’Neil’s painting “Mine for a Moment,” which she created in honor of a close friend who recently died of oral cancer.

In addition, Nashville legend Charlie Daniels donated a gold fiddle that went for over $350.

As always, the event’s dynamic organizers arranged for live entertainment, including Gary Slayton and Janelle Dodson.  Janelle is a hygienist and NADHS officer who recently moved to Nashville to become a part of the local music scene.  

One additional key to the success of this year’s walk was the fundraising prowess of Robin Rhowling, another hygienist who recently moved to the Nashville area.  With Robin’s skills being added to the energy and creativity of Nicki Raines, Ellen Crosby and Holly Hill, it would appear that “Boot Scootin’ for Oral Cancer Screening V” is a shoe-in for Nashville’s most successful walk yet!

Philly’s Fourth Fantastic Fundraiser

The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine goes to great lengths to make a large variety of activities available to its students, and many of those activities are of a charitable nature.  One year ago, then first-year dental student Ross Uhrich volunteered to help with the school’s third annual Philly Oral Cancer Walk without giving it a lot of thought.  As a result of that experience, he developed an appreciation for just how little he and most of his peers understood about the threat posed by oral cancer.  He decided he would get even more involved in the cause of promoting oral cancer awareness, and in fact was named the co-chair of the school’s 4th annual walk.

That event took place on Sunday, April 29 and drew 243 participants.  Of these, 169 participated in the walk, while 79 participated in a 5K run.  Adding a run was the idea of Ross, a high school cross country runner.  Both the walk and run started at the school’s campus but took two slightly different routes toward Philadelphia’s Center City and back.

Following the walk/run, participants were given the opportunity to receive oral cancer screenings given by dental school faculty and students from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.  They also heard two outstanding speakers.  The first was Dr. Thomas Sollecito, Chairman of the Department of Oral Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.  He was followed by keynote speaker Christine Brader, a three-time oral cancer survivor who gave what Ross described as a “very heartfelt and very well-received speech.”

Participants were offered a variety of refreshments, including a smoothie bar and other “oral cancer-friendly” foods.  Oral cancer screening device manufacturer DentalEZ had a booth.  The top finishers in the 5K race were given gift cards to local running stores and restaurants, as were the top fundraisers.

By the time Ross and his fellow co-chair, 3rd-year student Prince Dhillon, tallied their revenues and paid the event’s expenses, they had “philled” the Oral Cancer Foundation’s coffers with approximately $9,000. 

San Antonio Rose…to the Occasion!

San Antonio is known for many things, including the legendary Alamo, the beautiful Riverwalk, the NBA’s Spurs, and the Patsy Cline song, “San Antonio Rose.”  And thanks to Elizabeth Sikon, it’s also developing a reputation for organizing some of the most successful oral cancer walks in the country.

Elizabeth, a former oncology nurse with three young daughters, organized her first oral cancer walk one year ago, barely 18 months after being diagnosed with oral cancer and undergoing extensive treatment including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.  Despite a difficult recovery and hectic schedule, Elizabeth was able to raise almost $20,000, the most any Oral Cancer Foundation walk has ever generated in its first year.

While others were impressed with these results, Elizabeth immediately resolved that her 2012 results would blow them away.  She set the date of April 14 almost one year in advance, and she set an audacious fundraising goal: $35,000.

Elizabeth clearly knew what she was doing, because by the afternoon of Saturday, April 14, 2012, she and her team had raised a whopping $35,400 for the Oral Cancer Foundation.  This is believed to be the second-largest amount of money ever generated by an oral cancer walk.

The walk was again held at San Antonio’s O.P. Schnabel Park.  It attracted just over 300 registrants, many of whom brought their children along to enjoy the face-painting and temporary tattoo booths, not to mention the Smiley Sammy mascot.

Prior to the walk, the participants had fun loosening up to a Zumba dance exercise routine.  Following the walk, in between being entertained by the music of DJ Adrian,  they were treated to two outstanding speakers.  The first was Dr. Michaell A. Huber, professor at the Dental School of the UT Health Science Center, who discussed the importance of early detection of oral cancer from the perspective of a dental professional.  (A few weeks earlier, Dr. Huber asked Elizabeth to speak to his class of over 100 dental students to help kick off their study of oral cancer.) The second speaker was Eric Statler, a Stage IV oral cancer survivor who moved the crowd by providing his perspective on what it is like to be debilitated and disfigured by this disease.

When asked how they were able to almost double last year’s stellar results, she cited the exceptional “team spirit.”  A big part of this was due to special software utilized by the Oral Cancer Foundation that makes it easy and fun to track a walk’s fundraising progress, as well as to solicit donations online. In addition, a special website (, created and donated by Elizabeth’s neighbor, and a special Facebook page (, regularly updated by Elizabeth, made it easy for volunteers to keep track of developments over the months leading up to the walk.

Interestingly, the “MOCHA” moniker was created by Elizabeth.  A religious person who relied on her faith to help her through her intensive treatments, Elizabeth simply took the Oral Cancer Foundation’s theme “Making Oral Cancer History” and added an “Amen” at the end, thereby creating the “MOCHA” acronym.

Another big reason for the event’s success was a very active and generous group of sponsors.  Platinum sponsors included the Dental School of the UT Health Science Center, GlaxoSmithKline, Spahn Law Firm and the Oral Cancer Foundation.  Gold sponsors included the Department of Pathology of the UT Health Science Center, the Texas Academy of General Dentistry (San Antonio chapter), Pepsico, Briggs Equipment, the Start Center for Cancer Care, Prolyphic Productions, Cyber F/X Design and DJ Adrian.  Several other companies, organizations and dental practices were Silver, Bronze or Copper sponsors as well.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Elizabeth had already selected a larger venue for the 2013 walk, as the crowd she is determined to attract next year would be too big for the venue used the past two years.  She is planning to form a special committee dedicated to generating even more support from corporate sponsors.  She has also enlisted the services of an oral cancer survivor who has professional fundraising experience.  As if that weren’t enough, she is also planning to start a local support group for oral cancer patients and survivors.  The group will meet on a monthly basis, and Elizabeth is counting on recruiting many of its members to help spread the word about the 2013 walk.

The song “San Antonio Rose” begins, “Deep within my heart lies a melody, a song of old San Antone.”  Deep within Elizabeth Sikon’s heart lies a passion to help make oral cancer history.  And after only two years, she is making unprecedented progress toward that noble goal.

Learning Outside of Class

Cathy Draper is an adjunct faculty member in the dental hygiene program of Foothill College, as well as the student advisor for the school’s American Dental Hygiene Association chapter. Concerned about more than just her students’ academic development, Cathy decided she should find a good way for her students to give back to their Los Altos Hills, California community.  When she heard oral cancer survivor Eva Grayzel speak to her students last year, she found her cause: increasing awareness of the need for earlier detection of oral cancer. And when she did some research about the disease at the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website, she found her vehicle: she would organize an oral cancer walk.

And that is exactly what she did.  On Saturday, April 14, just under 100 people gathered for a 5K walk around the Foothill College track.  One of those walkers was Judy Miner, the college’s president, who set a very visible example for both her student body and her faculty.

What makes this turnout particularly impressive is the fact that Foothill College—a 2-year community college—is a commuter school with no on-campus residents.  This meant that students participating in the walk needed to drive from their homes to the campus, which is something they don’t normally do on a weekend.  What’s more, there are only 48 students in the school’s hygiene program: 24 first-year students and 24 second-year students. 

While the numbers might not have been in Cathy’s favor, the passion of her students certainly was.  Most of the administrative work required to organize the walk was handled by first-year students,

Walkers were given a raffle ticket for each lap around the track.  Raffle prizes included items like electric toothbrushes and gift cards to local establishments.  The mother of one student really got into the act, providing massages to anyone willing to make a donation.  Other donations were made prior to the event by several local dentists, one of whom also participated in the walk.

When all was said and done, over $5,000 was raised for the Oral Cancer Foundation.

As Cathy said, “This was a great way to not only increase awareness of oral cancer, but to have our students engage in a cause that is outside of themselves.”   And Cathy plans to make the walk an annual event.  “We learned a lot this time around,” she said, “and next year’s second-year students will all have the benefit of having gone through the exercise this year.” 

One thing Cathy is already planning to do differently next year is to have the local dental society provide oral cancer screenings.  And see has already secured the commitment of the local newspaper, which did a story following the event this year, to do a pre-event story next year in order to attract even more walkers and donations.

Clearly, Cathy Draper is helping her students to learn not only about dental hygiene, but about how to give back.  It’s hard to imagine a more well-rounded college education than that. that Kim and Dr. Pelletier are committed to organizing another walk/run next year?  “Next year?” asked Kim with a tone of mock indignation. “Every year!”

Awareness of oral cancer might be surprisingly low in South Carolina’s state capitol, but if Dr. Mark Pelletier, Kim Young and other staff members at Premier Aesthetic Dentistry have their way, the number of residents unaware of this disease will soon be headed south.

Literally and figuratively, this group wasn’t going to let a thunderstorm rain on its parade.  And they also weren’t about to let the fact that they’re from a small town keep them from raising funds that you’d expect from a big city.

A Small Town That Gets Big Results

Rossville, Indiana may have only about 1,300 residents, but four of them are very special people.  And all four work at Rossville Family Dentistry:  Dr. Alice Sue Green, her daughter Dr. Jennifer Green-Springer, hygienist Shana Frey, and dental assistant Kelly Hodson.

For the third straight year, these four women organized the Indiana Oral Cancer Awareness Walk. And despite thunderstorms that resulted in attendance that was only about one-third of the 90 or so people who attended the first two walks, these four women weren’t about to allow anything to rain on their parade.  Remarkably, the event was still able to generate a best-ever fundraising total of over $5,000.  It is believed that no oral cancer walk in the country has ever generated close to that amount on a per capita basis.

Two event participants were able to raise funds online using special software made available by the Oral Cancer Foundation.  Four area dental practices also formed fundraising teams that were able to raise significant funds offline.

The event had its genesis almost four years ago when Kelly and Shana were talking about all of the fundraising events being organized for breast cancer.  They decided that since they were in the dental profession, they should organize a fundraiser for oral cancer, particularly since they were aware that the disease is one of the few types of cancer that is claiming more victims than ever before.  They approach Dr. Green and Dr. Green-Springer and immediately secured their support.

For the 2012 event, which took place on Saturday, April 28, Kelly assumed most of the organizational responsibilities, but the entire staff at Rossville Family Dentistry pitched in to support her. Additional help was provided by Dr. Green-Springer’s husband, who designed a website for the event.

The 30 attendees all stayed dry inside the dental practice.  There they enjoyed refreshments, participated in a raffle, and heard a speech by Dr. Michael Bagnoli, an oral surgeon to whom Rossville Family Dentistry refers its patients exhibiting any suspicious oral lesions.  Entertainment was also provided for the children in attendance. The rains then let up long enough for everyone to get in about a 1.5 mile walk.

Literally and figuratively, this group wasn’t going to let a thunderstorm rain on its parade.  And they also weren’t about to let the fact that they’re from a small town keep them from raising funds that you’d expect from a big city.

One State, Two Schools, Three Walks…and Counting

The 3rd Arizona Oral Cancer Walk was held on Saturday, April 21.  The walk was the brainchild of Terrence Yu, DDS, a dentist at the Phoenix Rehabilitation Hospital, who thought it would be a good opportunity for collaboration between the students and faculty from Arizona’s two dental schools, the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health and Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Arizona.

The key organizer of the 2012 walk was Mai-Ly Duong, a 4th-year student at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health.  Mai-Ly had organized the Arizona Hepatitis Walk in 2004, and she put her prior experience to good use.  Mai-Ly somehow found time to organize the event despite the fact that she had her dental licensing exam less than three weeks after the walk.

When asked why she went to the trouble to involve herself in the walk when she was so busy preparing for her exam and graduation, she said, “I think it’s important to help make people aware that oral cancer often strikes people with no obvious risk factors for the disease.”  As an example, she said, at the walk she met a 19-year-old woman who was recently diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma even though she doesn’t use tobacco or drink alcohol and has no history of cancer in her family.

Over 170 people attended the event at Scottsdale’s El Dorado Park.  Guest speakers included Kevin James, an oral cancer survivor who was diagnosed with the disease 18 years ago, and Dr. Dale Davis, a dentist whose mother and son are both oral cancer survivors.

Sponsors included the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation, the Arizona Academy of General Dentistry, GlaxoSmithKline, Patterson Dental, Scottsdale Healthcare and the Oral Cancer Foundation.  Thanks to the generosity of these sponsors, the 170 participants and their supporters—not to mention the organizational skills of Mai-Ly Duong—a total of nearly $5,000 was donated to the Oral Cancer Foundation.

An Oral Cancer Walk in the Heart of Tobacco Country

Like many dental professionals, Dr. Mark Pelletier and his staff at Premier Aesthetic Dentistry outside of Columbia, South Carolina had read numerous articles over the past several years discussing the surprising growth in the number of oral cancer cases. To enhance their ability to detect oral cancer and precancer, they began offering oral cancer screenings using ViziLIte® Plus technology several years ago.  Recently, to make the screenings more comfortable and economical, they invested in a state-of-the-art VELscope® oral cancer screening device, which allows them to charge their patients less and does not involve a distasteful oral rinse. 

While their regular patients are now aware of the threat posed by oral cancer, Dr. Pelletier and his associates were continually dismayed at how little most new patients knew about this disease.  “This was particularly alarming when you consider how many people in this part of the world smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco,” said Kim Young, one of the practice’s hygienists.  “So we decided we needed to do something to raise awareness about oral cancer.  We did our homework, and we saw on the Oral Cancer Foundation website that putting on a walk seemed to be a good way to raise awareness.  So that’s what we did.”

The main person responsible for putting on the 1st Annual Columbia Oral Cancer Walk was Kim.  “We wanted to have our walk in April to tie in with Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which didn’t leave us a lot of planning time,” she said, “but we think we did pretty well for our first event.”  To drum up interest in the event, Kim sent out news releases to the local media, and two days before the event was interviewed on the local Fox affiliate’s “Good Day, Columbia” television show.

The 5K walk/run took place on April 28 at Saluda Shoals, a large park in Columbia.  The course took the walkers and runners along a scenic trail that runs along the Lower Saluda River.  Following the walk/run, all but two of the participants received a free oral cancer screening, and the other two were invited to get their screening at Dr. Pelletier’s practice. In fact, Dr. Pelletier plans to offer free screenings to the public on two separate occasions later in the year.

The entire event had only two sponsors:  Premier Aesthetic Dentistry and the Oral Cancer Foundation.  “We couldn’t have pulled this off without the help of Susan Lauria and Kaitlin Caruso of the Oral Cancer Foundation,” said Kim.  “Now that we have the first walk’s experience under our belts, we’ll be able to get other local dental practices and businesses to help sponsor future events.”  Does that mean that Kim and Dr. Pelletier are committed to organizing another walk/run next year?  “Next year?” asked Kim with a tone of mock indignation. “Every year!”

Awareness of oral cancer might be surprisingly low in South Carolina’s state capitol, but if Dr. Mark Pelletier, Kim Young and other staff members at Premier Aesthetic Dentistry have their way, the number of residents unaware of this disease will soon be headed south.

Literally and figuratively, this group wasn’t going to let a thunderstorm rain on its parade.  And they also weren’t about to let the fact that they’re from a small town keep them from raising funds that you’d expect from a big city.

High School Project Earns a Perfect Score in More Ways Than One

Like other seniors at Fredericksburg Academy in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Ryan Hudson needed to select a project that dealt with something about which he knew very little and that would in some way help him better himself.  When his friend’s father began undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for oral cancer in July 2011, he decided that his project would focus on increasing awareness of this disease.

“I saw how hard this experience had hit my friend’s family,” Ryan said, “and so I decided that helping to create awareness about oral cancer could be a good way to make a positive impact on my community.”

Working with materials provided by the Oral Cancer Foundation and advice offered by Susan Lauria, the Foundation’s Event Coordinator, Ryan held Fredericksburg’s First Annual Oral Cancer Walk on April 21.  A total of 28 people met on the Academy grounds, where Ryan had t-shirts, wrist bands, and brochures waiting.  He had also arranged to have free oral cancer screenings conducted by a hygienist from Culpeper Dental Associates in nearby Culpeper.  After a brief talk from Ryan, the participants embarked on a 3-mile walk that was so much fun that everyone decided to take a second lap.  And when they returned, they enjoyed refreshments that Ryan had paid for out of his own pocket.

Between the pledges the walkers brought in and donations made by local dental practices, the event raised approximately $2,800 for the Oral Cancer Foundation.  Next year, Ryan plans to hold his second annual walk, even though he’ll be a freshman at Hampton Sydney College two-and-a-half hours away.

“I learned a lot about planning and organizing as a result of this experience, and I know I can do so much better next year,” said Ryan.  But one aspect of his first year results cannot be improved upon:  He received a perfect score of 100 on his senior project.

Johnny’s Angels

When Johnny Hayes passed away following a three-year bout with oral cancer on November 18, 2011, he left behind his wife Viola and his grown daughters Pamela, Darlene and Tiffany. These four most important women in his life decided that they wanted to do something to honor Johnny, and even though he is the one now residing in heaven, they dubbed themselves “Johnny’s Angels.”

Pamela, the eldest daughter, wanted to learn more about the disease that had claimed her father’s life, and her curiosity soon took her to the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website.  There she learned, among other things, that many people across the country were organizing oral cancer walks to commemorate Oral Cancer Awareness Month in April.  She discussed this with the other Angels, and even though that was only a few months away, they decided that they would organize a walk in their hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut on April 21.

Other members of the Hayes family, including Johnny’s grandchildren, pitched in to help with the planning.  A local company called The Printing Press donated flyers to help promote the event, as well as a bookmark with Johnny’s photograph and personalized certificates to be given to each participant in the event.

The 2-mile walk took place in the same park where Johnny used to walk every day.  Despite only a few months of planning, a total of 67 people attended the event and raised over $1,000 for the Oral Cancer Foundation.

“We are definitely doing this again next year,” said Pamela, “and with much more time to plan, we know we’ll be able to attract a lot more people and raise a lot more money for the Foundation.”  One thing Pamela and her cohorts are committed to doing at next year’s event is offering free oral cancer screenings to all attendees.

“My father was a great husband, father and grandfather, and he always had a big smile on his face,” said Pamela.  It seems likely that on April 21, 2012, his smile was even bigger than usual.

“Lisa’s Voice” Rings Clear in Montana

Columbia Falls, Montana, is a picturesque, tight-knit town at the base of Glacier National Park.  With a population of roughly 2,500, any residents with a larger-than-life personality are seemingly know by everyone in town.  Lisa Petersen was one of those larger-than-life personalities.

Sadly, Lisa died in September, two years after being diagnosed with oral cancer.  Her treatment had included several surgeries, one of which removed her tongue and, with it, her voice.  But while her treatment was ultimately unable to save Lisa, the memories that Lisa’s friends have of her will keep her voice alive indefinitely.  One of those friends is Janis Johnson, who decided that something had to be done to honor Lisa’s memory.  “Lisa was one of a kind,” said Janis.  “She was very headstrong and opinionated, but she’d do anything for you.  She was a car racing fan and loved to hunt, but she also loved animals, especially her one-eyed cat and three-legged.  She was a real piece of work and just a joy to be around.” 

Prior to developing cancer, Lisa worked in mental healthcare.  Several years ago she moved from Columbia Falls to Missoula, but she returned home to be near her parents after her only sibling died in a car accident.  Shortly after moving pack, she was diagnosed with oral cancer.

When Janis decided to honor Lisa’s memory, she quickly decided two things.  First, she decided the event would not be a walk.  “It seems that almost every fundraiser you see is some sort of a walk,” said Janis.  “Lisa was a unique individual, so I wanted to do something different.  Also, you never know what kind of weather you’ll get around here in April, so I thought we should hold our event indoors.”  Second, she decided that the event would be called “Lisa’s Voice.”  As Janis said, “Lisa was never afraid to speak out, and you never knew what was going to come out of her mouth. But while cancer might have robbed her of her ability to speak, she still always found a way to be heard. It’s my hope that this event will keep her voice, and her memory, alive for many years to come.”

Based on the inaugural version of this event, held on April 21, it appears that Janis stands a good chance of getting her wish.  It was held at the Montana State Veterans Home, where Janis is employed helping residents with their dietary needs.  The superintendant of the Veterans Home is particularly sensitive to the cause of early detection of oral cancer, having recently lost an aunt to the disease and having another employee currently being treated for the disease.  In addition to providing the event’s venue, he also arranged to have the Veteran’s Home food service donate $1,000 worth of food, and to have local VFW members man the grills.

The centerpiece of the event was a booth staffed by members of the Flathead County Health Department. Janis had held four meetings with department administrators in what was ultimately a successful effort to convince them that the community needed to be educated about the threat posed by oral cancer, particularly that caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).

The event was kicked off in dramatic fashion by having a local roller derby team skate through the Veterans Home.  The team also handled valet duties as attendees arrived in their vehicles.

Janis was also able to gain the cooperation of the local dental community, as three general practitioners and one oral surgeon agreed to give oral cancer screenings to almost 100 event attendees. In addition, several local businesses and a local artist donated items for raffle prizes and a silent auction.  One of the most popular prizes was Lisa’s hunting rifle.

Janis lined up an impressive list of speakers for the event, including:

  • April Coen, one of Lisa’s closest friends.
  • Michelle Koller, whose 16-year-old daughter Taylor Peterson is currently being treated for oral cancer in Seattle.
  • Julianne Hinchey, a local attorney and oral cancer patient who spoke on how early detection saved her life.
  • Michele Robison, a brain cancer survivor who emceed the event.

In addition, representatives of the Montana Tobacco Quit Program were there to answer questions about the connection between oral cancer and tobacco usage.

Remarkably, almost 500 people between the ages of 5 and 90 attended the event, thanks in large part to Janis’ efforts to generate as much pre-event publicity as possible.  She was able to secure free advertising support from the Fox TV station in nearby Missoula and the Daily Interlake newspaper. She also got radio stations KOFI and KGEZ to air interviews with her leading up to the event, and she spoke to about 70 members of the local Rotary Club to drum up additional interest. 

The event raised a total of about $8,000 for the Oral Cancer Foundation, which is nothing short of remarkable given the small population base in Flathead County.  Still, less than three weeks after the inaugural “Lisa’s Voice,” Janis is already well on her way to ensuring that next year’s results will be even more successful. How?  By having two events two weeks apart—one in Missoula, where Lisa once lived, and the other in Kalispell.  Both cities offer much larger population bases than Columbia Falls.  In Missoula, Janis will organize the event in conjunction with the local Fox TV station.  In both cities, she already has lined up several dental practices that have agreed to offer free screenings, as well as three oral cancer patients from the Flathead Valley who want to share their stories.  She has also already arranged for several raffle and auction prizes, including a mammogram, a radiology reading and a surgery to be donated by a local hospital, and a 12-piece set of antique dishes donated by a local woman.  And, last but not least, she has persuaded the governor of Montana to attend the event.

Lisa Petersen was certainly a larger-than-life character, but it clear that Janis Johnson is a very special person in her own right.  Lisa might have lost her battle with cancer, but thanks to the efforts and determination of friends like Janis, her voice will be heard forever.

David Nasto Memorial Walk for Oral Cancer Awareness

A Sister Honors Her Brother by Supporting Oral Cancer Foundation

First Annual Memorial Walk Raises Over $10,000 to Promote Early Detection

David Nasto was the kind of person many of us wish we could be.  He was a surfer.  A snowboarder.  A kayaker.  A bicycler.  An artist.  A world traveler.  A free spirit.  Not content to simply be a devoted fan of the Grateful Dead, he also designed their album covers.  Simply put, David Nasto loved life, and he lived it on his own terms.

David Nasto was also his sister Susan’s hero.  So when David developed oral cancer in 2005, Susan decided to learn as much about the disease as she could.  And when David passed away the following year, she decided to honor her brother do by doing what she could to help prevent others from suffering the way he suffered.

“When David was diagnosed with oral cancer, I was shocked,” said Susan.  “He was so athletic, so healthy, and he had never smoked a cigarette in his life.  I didn’t think oral cancer struck people like him.”  Susan tried to learn as much as she could about the disease, spending much of her free time doing online research.  During that process she discovered the website of the Oral Cancer Foundation.  “I learned a lot about oral cancer, but the most important thing I learned is the importance of early detection.  So when David died, I wanted to find a way to raise money to help increase awareness of the need for everyone to get checked for oral cancer on a regular basis.”

After much study and contemplation, Susan decided that she would organize the David Nasto Memorial Walk for Oral Cancer, and donate all of the funds raised to the Oral Cancer Foundation.  The first annual walk took place on September 27, 2008 just outside Andover, New Jersey, where David and Susan were raised. Susan started organizing the event in March, relying heavily on advice provided by Oral Cancer Foundation founder Brian Hill.  “There’s no way I could have done this without Brian,” said Susan.  “I learned so much from him about oral cancer, and about how to orchestrate an event like this.  He guided me through every step of the way.”

And there were certainly a lot of steps involved.  The event kicked off with a 9:00 am registration, where 85 registrants were given special t-shirts.  For the next two hours, free oral cancer exams were conducted by three dentists.  Then it was time for the walk, a two-mile stroll through scenic countryside in an area known as Perona Farms.  Following the walk, lunch was served, including baked ziti, fruit, and hamburgers and hot dogs grilled by Susan’s husband, Harry Lauria.  After lunch, an inspirational talk was given by Eva Grayzel, a 10-year oral cancer survivor, and five other oral cancer survivors in attendance were also introduced.  The event concluded with a raffle of various gift cards, and an iPod was awarded to the person who recruited the most sponsors.  All told, over $10,000 was raised, quite a feat for a first-time event.

Susan, who helps people for a living through her “On the Move” errand service, is quick to acknowledge the many people who helped her make this event such a success.  Local stores donated all of the food as well as the raffled gift cards.  CBS Outdoor donated a billboard that promoted the event for three months.  Johnson & Johnson, where Susan’s aunt is employed, donated $2,500 in cash plus all of the t-shirts.  And other family members also got into the act.  Susan’s 91-year-old grandmother, who lives at the New Jersey shore where David Nasto once was a lifeguard, raised over $700 from the beach community through a letter-writing campaign.  Susan’s mother made flyers for the event, and Susan’s sister who is 4 ½ months pregnant, flew in from Texas to work the registration desk.  And Susan’s husband Harry and 15-year-old son Kevin provided much moral support throughout the entire planning process. 

Susan is already thinking about her second annual walk, and she’s set a goal of raising twice as much money as the inaugural event raised.  Fortunately, she’s already had several people volunteer to help her attain that goal.  And speaking of volunteering, Susan has volunteered to help the Oral Cancer Foundation counsel other people who are organizing walks and other fund-raising events.

David Nasto was clearly an inspiration to his sister.  And Susan Lauria is proving to be just as big of an inspiration to others, particularly to those who care deeply about reducing the incidence and impact of oral cancer. Brian Hill from OCF stated that “Susan’s passion was evident from the onset. It was clearly a labor of love, but beyond that, it was the realization that she personally could be part of positive change in the world while memorializing her brother. It think that her example, her ability to turn a tragedy into a positive that will impact others around her, raise awareness about a disease that we hear far too little about, and help fund outreach efforts that are remote from her local community through the funds donated to OCF, show her to be the kind of altruistic person person that we can all look up to. When our focus moves from the self to others, mountains can be moved. It was a privilege to be associated with her both personally and through the foundation in this effort. She is a remarkable lady.

The first year of an annual event to memorialize the life of David Nasto, lost to oral cancer in 2006, which will raise awareness of the disease, and help fund initiatives via OCF to reduce the burdens of this disease in the US. Local dentists will provide free oral cancer screenings at the registration site of the walk. The first 100 walkers will receive a free T-shirt.

About David Nasto

Surfer, snowboarder, cyclist, artist, outdoorsman, photographer, water skier, loving son, beloved brother, grandson, uncle and friend. These are just a few ways to describe David. He was a man who loved life to the fullest Always on some kind of adventure, he was off surfing in Costa Rica, or Hawaii, kayaking or canoeing, or snowboarding in Vermont. He approached everything passionately with his heart and soul. But most of all he was a kind and loving gentle man, with a heart of gold. All that changed in an instant in 2005 with the diagnosis of stage 4 tongue cancer. He fought a battle through chemotherapy, radiation and finally clinical trials. Even after losing his ability to eat or speak, dependent on a feeding tube, he never gave up. His lost his battle at age 47. David did not seek medical help until too late, and the purpose of this walk event is to raise awareness in people to get screened regularly and to seek medical/dental advice should something abnormal persist in your mouth for more than a couple of weeks. Screenings and an informed public will save lives. But you must be aware of the possibilities and engaged in an annual screening process. The family hopes that David’s battle and life can become a message that will help others avoid this terrible disease, or at worst find it at early curable stages.