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MOBILE, Ala. -- A decade ago, a doctor at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute had an idea for a way to bring attention to an issue he was passionate about while having a little fun in the process.
Gynecologic oncologist Dr. Rod Rocconi had noted the success of October’s breast cancer awareness month and the nationwide fundraising events it produced. He hoped to create a local event that would raise the profile of lesser-known gynecologic cancers.
These cancers, which are ovarian, uterine, cervical, vaginal and vulvar, were often considered taboo subjects. The hope was to change that perception and increase awareness, while raising funds for research. His colleague, Dr. Michael Finan, agreed.
The first GO Run 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run kicked off at the intramural pavilion on the campus of the University of South Alabama on Sept. 13, 2008, during gynecologic cancer awareness month.
“Our very first year, we thought maybe 100 people would show up. From a fundraising standpoint, we hoped we’d break even, “ recalls Rocconi. “But the race far exceeded our expectations with 300 runners and walkers. And it raised $11,000.”
Since then, the event has continued to grow. Last year’s race attracted 1,100 participants and raised more than $73,000 for gynecologic cancer research at MCI. Over nine years, the total is $400,000.
This year’s GO Run, presented by the Catranis Family Charitable Foundation, will be held Saturday, Sept. 16, on the lawn of the Mitchell Center on the USA campus, with the race starting at the Moulton Tower. The 5K starts at 8 a.m., and the Fun Run at 9 am. It features live entertainment, food and activities for children.
While other 5K races have faded, the GO Run continues to remain popular for a number of reasons, says Rocconi. He credits an outstanding volunteer team, loyal sponsors and enthusiastic participation from patients, family and staff.
Fellow gynecologic oncologist Dr. Jennifer Scalici, who joined MCI in 2012, acknowledges the impact of patients on the run. “Part of the goal of the GO Run is to empower women in our community to advocate for themselves,” she says. “Our patients are crucial in getting the word out. The women we care for are a passionate bunch, and they want to help other women avoid what they have been through.”
The GO Run always promises good clean fun. Some participants dress in tutus, capes and costumes, and sport elaborate headgear. Patients are pushed in wheelchairs and children in strollers. Signs are displayed honoring or remembering those affected by gynecologic cancer. Balloons and ribbons adorn the course.
The doctors participate in the fun, too. To honor their patients, Finan and Rocconi once shaved their heads, while Scalici dyed her hair teal and purple, the colors that represent gynecologic cancers.
While the $400,000 that has been raised since the race’s inception is impressive, that’s only a portion of the funds that have been earmarked for gynecologic cancer research at MCI.
In 2008, Finan, Rocconi and the late Dr. Eddie Reed each contributed their personal funds to establish the Gynecologic Cancer Research Endowment and saw the GO Run as a means to grow it. The proceeds of the run, coupled with private donations, have brought the current value of the endowment to more than $1.2 million.
The little idea a decade ago has made a big impact on cancer research at MCI. The GO Run has funded many projects, including new ovarian cancer screening tests as well as the development of targeted agents to prevent cancer. The event has also produced many special memories along the way.
“Over the past decade, I witnessed my own mother get diagnosed and eventually die from cancer,” says Rocconi. “She attended the GO Run every year, starting as a supportive mother, then a patient, and now is forever memorialized with a purple ribbon that bears her name. This race reminds us that we are here to celebrate all these women, and it pushes us to not just develop better treatments, but also to eliminate gynecologic cancers.”
Scalici attends the event with her husband and children, and says it helps provides insight into her profession. “The GO Run is a chance for my family to experience the reason I go to work in the morning, the reason I am on call at night, and the reason I do the research that I do,” she says. “And it only takes meeting one of our patients and listening to her story for those reasons to become clear.”
About USA Mitchell Cancer Institute: Part of USA Health, MCI is the only academic cancer research and treatment institute on the upper Gulf Coast corridor, with offices in Mobile, Fairhope and Monroeville.
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