As thousands of Oregon football fans fill the stadium this weekend, Geni White, 82, will be preparing to walk onto the field during a timeout to be recognized as a Cancer Hero of the Game.
Cancer runs in White’s family, she said, and she’s the first of three generations to survive the disease, a hereditary type of colon cancer called Lynch Syndrome. Though she’s been cancer-free for about 10 years, she said she’s routinely tested and must have procedures done to remove any polyps that might become cancerous.
UO’s new campaign, named Fight like a Duck, will recognize 10 local cancer survivors, one at each of the home football games, in addition to other sporting events throughout the year.
University of Oregon Athletics partnered with Willamette Valley Cancer Institute to bring awareness to the fight against cancer and highlight the care that WVCI provides in the community, said Dr. Chris Yasenchak, a medical oncologist and campaign organizer.
White said she is excited to take the field on Saturday to represent the WVCI. “It’s delightful,” she said with a smile. “It’s really fun.”
Yasenchak said the campaign aims to highlight the stories of survivors. “I think it’s just a great way for us to be able to acknowledge the hard work our patients put in every day in their fight against cancer and provide a little bit of support and encouragement,” he said.
Janis Ross is the head of the sports commission for Lane County and works closely with UO Track and Field. She’s also a cancer survivor living with Hodgkin lymphoma, an incurable cancer. Ross said she’s honored to represent the patients at WVCI.
“I think what the Ducks are doing is amazing, and Willamette Valley Cancer, they’re awesome,” said Ross, who will be recognized on September 15 at the game against San Jose State.
The campaign kicked off on Monday when all the cancer survivors and their families were invited to Autzen. After introductions, the group toured the Moshofsky Center and Autzen Stadium. They took photos on the field as they tried to imagine it filled with over 50,000 people on game day.
“When you know so many people in Eugene, it’s kind of frightening,” said Michelle McCoy, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer two and a half years ago. She graduated from the UO Lundquist College of Business in 2002 and will be recognized at the game against Washington on October 13.
As the tour continued, cancer survivors were shown around the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, Oregon’s Football Operations Center. Typically, only the lobby of the building is open to the public, where they can see the Marcus Mariota’s Heisman trophy.
But the cancer survivors got an insider’s look at the building, from players’ lounges and meeting rooms, to the weight room and locker room, the dining hall, press conference room and a theater.
This isn’t the first time Oregon Athletics has supported the fight for cancer. Last year, the football team partnered with Nike and OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Three children affected by cancer designed the players’ uniforms and apparel, with all proceeds from apparel sales going toward Doernbecher’s pediatric cancer fund. The Ducks also recognize active duty and retired military veterans during games.
Tate Kelly, a senior account executive with International Management Group for Oregon who spearheaded the campaign, said he wanted to work on the campaign after seeing something similar at Ohio State University. The campaign will continue for at least the next three years, maybe longer, he said.
“This is something powerful, for us to use our platform for something like this is honestly why I do this job,” he said. “Because this is the type of stuff that really makes a difference for people.”