Months before his passing from oral cancer in 2009, Peter Hoffman, SEAS BS ’07, began scripting notes about an idea. While undergoing treatment in London, Peter started organizing a DC-based 5K walk/run to raise funds for oral cancer awareness and research. In April of 2015, six years after Peter’s death, the Hoffman family made Peter’s vision a reality by hosting the first Oral Cancer Awareness Walk & Run In Memory of Peter McGee Hoffman. So far, the annual race has raised over $200,000. This year’s race will take place on April 14th in Sligo-Dennis Avenue Park in Silver Spring, MD.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have wonderful support from family and friends,” says Peter’s sister, Kaitlin Hoffman Caruso, GSEHD MEd ’14. “We’ve had roughly 500 people at the event each year.”
Beyond fundraising, one of the most powerful outcomes of the race has been increased awareness of oral cancer and its symptoms. According to Kaitlin, many people think oral cancer is rare and only presents in older people, which isn’t the case. “Oral cancer is newly diagnosed in 132 people each day in the U.S., and in a growing number of young people like my brother.”
Due to lack of public awareness, the majority of cases are found as late-stage, fatal cancers. For Peter, it was an ulcer on his tongue that alerted him. By the time he went to a doctor, the disease had spread to his lymph nodes, proving resistant to surgery and treatments. He passed away at the age of 24—seven months after his diagnosis—unable to eat, drink, or speak.
“If found early, a patient’s chances of survival are much greater,” says Kaitlin. “So the key is asking for an oral cancer screening at your dental cleaning and becoming aware of the warning signs.” Some early symptoms might appear as a persistent mouth sore or pain, including on the tongue, a lump or thickening in the cheek, trouble moving the jaw or problems with chewing, swallowing or speaking. Because of its location in the body, oral cancer affects patients in ways that patients of other cancers do not experience; many survivors face a lifetime of feeding tubes or difficulty speaking and eating.
“The event is a good way to contribute to an important cause and learn valuable information about your health,” says Kaitlin. “It’s also a fun way to spend a morning.” Besides the 5K walk/run, there will be a BBQ, a raffle, free screenings by local dentists, and remarks from survivors who will share their own experiences with oral cancer. Raffle prizes include gift certificates donated by local businesses such as Tail Up Goat, Pearl Dive, and New Balance.
“It’s rewarding to support the work of the Oral Cancer Foundation, notably its prevention, education, research, advocacy, and patient support activities,” says Kaitlin. And for GW alumni she adds: “It is important to know they will be surrounded by fellow alumni in support of one of their own.”
For more information about the event and to register, please visit: peterswalkrun.com