Hartford woman racing against cancer

You could say Beth Cook is predisposed to cancer.

The Hartford resident and mother of two carries a gene that gives her an estimated 87 percent chance of having breast cancer in her life and a 42 percent chance of having ovarian cancer.

She’s not going to sit down and take it though; in fact, she’s doing quite the opposite. On Columbus Day weekend Cook will run the Chicago Marathon for Bright Pink, a national nonprofit organization.

“I’ve been a runner for a long time; I wanted to raise money for something, and I found this organization,” Cook said.

Bright Pink provides support for young women who carry the BRCA1 gene, like Cook, or the similar BRCA2 gene.

“We are passionate about enlightening and empowering young women to be proactive with their breast and ovarian health. We are the big sister, the best friend, the trusted advisor, the dependable source of support,” the organization describes itself on its website.

Cook found out about her own high risk of cancer through her mother’s illness.

“My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and when she was going through that they had her do genetic testing because her family tree had a lot of women with breast or ovarian cancer,” she said.  Her great, great-aunt had it, her grandmother died at age 44 of ovarian cancer and her mother became a survivor after undergoing a double mastectomy.

Despite these odds, Cook seems to take a brave approach. She said some women take drugs that suppress the hormones that cause these diseases, but there is an option for more effective prevention.

“I have a genetic counselor. By the time I’m 40 I’ll undergo a mastectomy and hysterectomy, which lowers my chances to 2 to 5 percent,” she said. Until then, she’ll have to have MRIs and mammograms every six months.

Actress Angelina Jolie, who is a carrier to the same BRCA1 gene as Cook, made headlines earlier this year when she chose to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. The founder of Bright Pink, Lindsay Avner, was the youngest patient in the country to do the same.

When Cook signed up to run 26.2 miles for Bright Pink, the organization secured her a spot in the race. In turn, she has to raise a minimum of $900 for the cause.

As for the physical challenge of the race, Cook is in pretty good shape. She already ran a Marine Corps marathon and trained for another marathon, but was unable to compete because of stress fractures in her feet.

She’s been training with two other women who will run the marathon with her Oct. 13; her longest recent run was 18 miles, and she’ll do 20 on Sunday.

She did say running in Hartford is a bit more challenging than other, flatter areas.

“I’m getting used to the hills in Hartford—I’m going to have legs of steel by the time this marathon’s over,” she said. But the terrain has not been a deterrent.

“I love running and especially that I’m raising money for this organization; that makes it more of a push to train well. If you ask anyone who knows me, I’m pretty stubborn.”

Next week will bring about a new twist as her husband, Andy, returns to his post as school superintendent and her 4-year-old son starts pre-kindergarten. That means along with pushing herself, she’ll be pushing her 11-month-old in a jogging stroller.  

Cook will be holding a barbeque fundraiser to help her cause on Sept. 21, but those who want to support her can donate at any time on her webpage for the event, www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=236491.

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