Record $600,000 raised for Avera’s Cancer Race to benefit numerous patient programs

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) – The sun rose on Avera’s “race against cancer” when local golf icon Peggy Kirby wanted to honor her sister Judy Davis, who was suffering from a breast cancer.

“At the time, we didn’t know anything about how to race,” Davis said.

Approximately 1,000 people participated and $75,000 was raised for breast cancer research and treatment.

On Saturday, 33 years later, 5,000 people ran or walked the 5 km course and approximately $600,000 was raised, a new record.

The race now benefits patients of all types of cancer.

“We want research, we want cures,” said breast cancer surgeon Dr. Tricia Merrigan. “That’s the way to do it – everyone working together and supporting whatever we can do for our patients.

“I love going out and seeing my patients. Usually, you know, I try to walk around and see some familiar faces, and I think they’re looking for us too. I mean, we want to support each other in this way, and so it’s great to see so many people come out to support this event and participate in it.

Jackie Haggar-Tuschen helped organize that first race and has been the driving force ever since. This will be her last run as director of the Avera McKennan Fitness Center. She is retiring this year, but will continue to volunteer at the gym and for the event.

“The growth has been wonderful,” Haggar-Tuschen said. “But it’s also changed the number of dollars we’ve been able to raise in that community, the impact that has, and the services that we can do with those dollars.”

Money from race donations and entry fees will go towards things like scouting and detection, research, navigation services, a wig program, aromatherapy and massage therapy programs, and a arts and healing.

In art therapy, patients can draw, paint, write, create poems, and enjoy music therapy, where patients and loved ones can listen to their favorite songs, live or recorded.

“It brings back some fun memories,” said Carol Rodgers, the Avera Cancer Institute‘s senior art therapist. “It’s just kind of an exciting time for patients.”

While these things won’t make cancer go away, Rodgers sees the difference they make from the moment a patient walks into the infusion center’s art therapy room.

“We can immediately see their stress, their anxiety, their worries,” Rodgers said. “Or they’re scared of what’s going to happen to them while they’re in treatment, and we can give them something fun, unexpected and enjoyable.

“It’s amazing to see the whole emotional state of the participant change. When they participate, they let their guard down. They can relax and they smile. They interact differently with the loved ones they are with.

By the time the 15 minutes to an hour is over, gratitude becomes the attitude.

“When we’re done with them, they’re so thankful and thankful that we spent time with them,” Rodgers said. “It always surprises them to be able to take home a piece of art that they didn’t have to pay for and be able to do something fun. They really appreciate it. And they send us thank you cards, which is so sweet and endearing.

The feeling is mutual for the therapists.

“We haven’t lost the privilege of working with patients as they go through their cancer journey, and if we can help them in any way it’s so commendable. And we appreciate it so much that people continue to support us and make us grow.

The art therapy program began 11 years ago, with eight hours of lessons per week. Now it’s all day, every day.

It’s an example of how far all of Avera’s cancer programs have come, just as it is race.

And just like Judy Davis, who survived her breast cancer.

“I think about how far I’ve come,” Davis said, “and how excited I am that 34 years later, even though I had a really bad diagnosis at the time, that I’m here to celebrate a once more,” Davis mentioned.

“I think of all the years and all the involvement with Avera, and the cancer center, and everything they’ve done, and the cancer programs. Things that didn’t exist 34 years ago. And because of Avera, all of these things happened.

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