Oral cancer isn't a disease that gets talked about a lot.
According to 11-year oral cancer survivor Jeanna Richelson, that needs to change.
Her efforts to start the Chattanooga Chapter of Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer, the first such support group in this region, won her this year's local Jefferson Award award, the Nobel Prize of voluntarism awards. She also started the local Oral Cancer Awareness Walk, coming up this year on April 28.
She said many people affected by oral cancer often have speech problems and are sometimes too embarrassed or depressed to speak out against the disease, which is why she has organized the walk for the last three years.
"It's a fun day for the whole family," she said. "All proceeds will go to benefit the Oral Cancer Foundation that helps with research and awareness. We are seeing a lot of things today they help do to make the lives of oral cancer patients much better."
The event at the First Tennessee Pavilion will feature an awareness walk at 10 a.m., a performance by big-band group Sweet Georgia Sound, local speakers, food, face painting and emcee Miss Tennessee International 2008 and 2010 Cydney Miller. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and participation in the two-mile walk costs $30 the day of the race. Children under 5 years old and oral cancer survivors can walk for free.
Richelson said another important feature of the event is free oral cancer screenings provided by local dentists. Research shows there may be a link between the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer and oral cancer, she said. More and more young people and non-smokers are being diagnosed with oral cancer, according to Richelson.
"It used to be that you had to smoke or be 70 or 80 years old to be at risk to get it, but that's not the case anymore," she said. "You never know if you are at risk. If we're willing to have regular mammograms, we should also be willing to have oral cancer screenings."
For more information, visit www.oralcancerfoundation.org.