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

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:52 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The sun came up on Avera’s ever-growing “Race Against Cancer,” when local golfing icon Peggy Kirby wanted to honor her sister Judy Davis, who was suffering from breast cancer.

“Back then, we knew nothing about how to do a race,” Davis said.

About 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 walk the 5k course, and about $600,000 was raised, a new record.

The race now benefits patients of all types of cancer.

“We want research, we want cures,” said Dr. Tricia Merrigan, a breast cancer surgeon. “This is the way to do it — have everyone work together and support everything we can do for our patients.

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

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

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

The money from race donations and entrance fees will go to things like screening and detection, research, navigation services, a wig program, aromatherapy and massage therapy programs, and an arts and healing program.

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

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

While those things won’t make the cancer and away, Rodgers sees the difference they make from the time a patient walks into the art therapy room at the infusion center.

“We can immediately see their stress, their anxiety, their worries,” Rodgers said. “Or, they’re scared about what’s going to happen to them when they’re having treatment, and we get to offer them something fun and unexpected and enjoyable.

“It’s amazing when you see the participant’s whole emotional state change. When they participate, they let down their guard. They can kind of relax, and they are smiling. They’re interacting differently with the loved ones they are with.”

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

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

The feeling is mutual for the therapists.

”It’s not lost on us, the privilege to to work with patients when they’re having their cancer journey, and if we can help them in any way, it’s so worthy. And we appreciate it so much that people continue to support us and keep us growing.”

The art therapy program started 11 years ago, with eight hours a week of classes. Now, it’s all day, every day.

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

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

”I think about how far it has 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 one more time,” Davis said.

“I think about all the years and all the involvement with Avera, and the cancer center, and everything they’ve done, and the cancer programs. Things that were not in place 34 years ago. And because of Avera, all these things have come to pass.”

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