Iditarod competitor diagnosed with cancer

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe was diagnosed with cancer and will undergo surgery Monday at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

A veteran of 20 Iditarods, Jonrowe, 48, said the diagnosis caught her off-guard because she has no family history of breast cancer, she eats well and exercises.

Jonrowe, a top finisher in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, told more than 200 members of the Downtown Anchorage Rotary Club about her diagnosis at a luncheon Tuesday. She talked about her racing career and other aspects of mushing and briefly mentioned the cancer diagnosis at the end of her speech.

Jonrowe said she discovered a lump during a self-exam and had it biopsied last week. Doctors told her she had a less than 1 percent chance of it being malignant, she said. When she was diagnosis with cancer, Jonrowe was stunned.

''I said to myself, 'Where did this come from?'''

Jonrowe said she won't know what stage her cancer is in until she consults with doctors Thursday.

Jonrowe has faced a string of setbacks in recent years. She and her husband, Mike, suffered serious injuries in a car crash on the icy Nenana River Bridge in 1996. Jonrowe's grandmother died in the accident. The car was so badly mangled that Jonrowe and her passengers had to be cut from the wreckage.

Six months after the accident, Jonrowe competed in the grueling 1,100-mile Iditarod and took fourth place.

Jonrowe ran her first Iditarod in 1980 but has never won, though she often comes close. She's been a top-10 finisher in 11 races and is considered a serious contender.

Jonrowe also lost two of her longtime corporate sponsors this spring. After more than a decade of helping Jonrowe cover the costs of maintaining a competitive dog kennel and running the Iditarod, clothing retailer Eddie Bauer and Royal Canin USA, a dog food company, withdrew their support.

Because of the financial strain, she's been single-handedly taking care of more than 100 dogs since April. But her husband, a commercial fishermen, recently returned from Bristol Bay and has been helping, Jonrowe said.

Jonrowe still plans to run next year's Iditarod, although she's going to take things day by day for a while. She'll focus on regaining upper-body strength after the surgery.

''I want to get well and get back on the dog sled right away.''

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