World's toughest race and cancer connections

Iditarod beaten by cancer survivors


English: Army Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie of the A...

Four times winner Lance Mackey beat cancer

If there is one thing cancer survivors learn – you have to be tough to beat the disease.

And this stands them in good stead if it comes to taking part – and winning – the Iditarod dog sled race, run across a thousand miles of frozen Alaskan wastes every March.

One of the most famous racers taking part is Lance Mackey

  • four times winner
  • throat cancer survivor
  • In 1978 his father, Dave, beat previous winner Rick Swenson by one second to win that year’s Iditarod

In 2001 Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer, but doesn’t let this bother him, even though he needs to keep his mouth constantly moist;  a very difficult thing when temperatures are way below what freezes water.

To read more put his name into the search bar, and read a friend’s account of meeting the great man with a big sense of humour.


Another with Iditarod musher with a big sense of humour is DeeDee Jonrowe.

A double mastectomy survivor, DeeDee decided to have fun, and some years ago started to equip her 16-strong dog sled team with pink bootees.  To see pics of the incredible sight of DeeDee dressed in her pink mushing gear, driving her pink-booted team, put DeeDee into search window.


Susan Butcher

Susan was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. When she was young her brother died of leukemia at a young age. She studied at Colorado State University and ultimately became a veterinary technician.

To pursue her love of dogsled racing and breeding huskies, she moved to the Wrangell Mountains area of Alaska.

There Susan began training to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race which tests the endurance of both mushers and dogs over the course of one to two weeks. After placing in several Iditarods, Butcher was forced to withdraw early in the 1985 when two of her dogs were killed by a pregnant moose, despite Butcher’s attempts to ward the animal off, and six others were severely injured. Libby Riddles, a relative newcomer, braved a blizzard and became the first woman to win the Iditarod that year.

The more experienced Butcher won the next race in 1986, and then proceeded to win again in 1987, 1988, and 1990. She joins fellow four-time winners Martin Buser, Jeff King, Lance Mackey and Doug Swingley, and Rick Swenson who won five. Butcher married fellow dog racer David Monson on September 2, 1985; they successfully competed in almost every major sled-dog race in numerous countries around the world.

Her accomplishments gained her substantial media attention in the late 1980s and earned her many awards, including the “National Women’s Sports Foundation Amateur Athlete of The Year Award” and the “Tanqueray Athlete of the Year.” She also won the “U.S. Victor Award” for “Female Athlete of the Year” two years in a row. In 2007 Susan was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as one of the five charter members in the inaugural class.

In 2005 Butcher was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, underwent chemotherapy  and received a bone marrow transplant on May 17, 2006 after the cancer went into remission. According to her husband David Monson, “someone said this might be a tough disease, but this leukemia hasn’t met Susan Butcher yet.”

Butcher died on August 5, 2006 after learning that the cancer had returned. She is survived by her two daughters, Tekla and Chisana, and her husband, attorney and musher David Monson.

On March 1, 2008, Susan Butcher was honored by the State of Alaska when, just prior to the start of the 2008 Iditarod, Gov. Sarah Palin signed a bill establishing the first Saturday of every March as Susan Butcher Day. The day coincides with the traditional start of the Iditarod each year. Observing the special day, the bill noted, provides opportunity for people to “remember the life of Susan Butcher, an inspiration to Alaskans and to millions around the world.”

And true to Iditarod mushers’ and cancer survivors’ feelings, Susan said “I do not know the word ‘quit.’ Either I never did, or I have abolished it.”

Follow the Race
Starts Saturday, March 3rd, and I will be covering the highlights during the following couple of weeks.  Will also be writing about the dogs on

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