Oral Cancer Awareness 5k Run/Walk-a-thon

NSU’s Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity will host an Oral Cancer Awareness 5k Run/Walk-a-thon at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill on Feb. 23 at 7:30 a.m. About 500 participants are expected and proceeds will benefit The Truth Outreach Project, a non-profit oral cancer awareness organization.

Kara Slavik, president of the College of Dental Medicine’s class of 2014, said that the main goal of the event is to educate the public on the importance of getting routine checks for oral cancer.

“There is a higher death rate with oral cancer than other, more publicized cancers, but it is usually diagnosed at a late stage,” Slavik said.

The event’s main coordinator, dental student and Community Service Chair of Alpha Omega Uyen Nyugen, is a survivor of a stage two head and neck cancer called central mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Nyguen noticed signs of cancer in January 2012, when her periodontics rotation partner brought a lesion to her attention, but she was not officially diagnosed until last August.

“With the busy schedule that we had as second-year dental students, I did not follow up, and I started developing neuropathic-like pains, which made it difficult to focus on my studies,” said Nyugen.

What she thought was just a bruise turned out to be a two-and-a-half-centimeter tumor.

“I kept asking, ‘I am young and healthy, so why me?’,” Nyugen said.

Nyugen said that she recovered from her surgery with strong support from friends, family and NSU dental faculty and staff, and she is now determined to help others avoid the situation she found herself in.

The event’s planning began early in the 2012-2013 school year, but Nyugen’s ordeal inspired Alpha Omega to hurry along the process, according to third-year dental student and Alpha Omega President Michael Gertsen.

Gertsen said, “We were both excited about putting together this event, but unfortunately, Uyen also received her diagnosis during that same semester. Under such circumstances, many would have stepped back and let someone else handle the major responsibility of such a large scale event, but Uyen did the opposite.”

College of Dental Medicine Dean Robert Uchin provided Alpha Omega with funds out of his own pocket to rent the park venue. With the help of Professor Alston Khadine, president and founder of The Truth Outreach Project, and Executive Associate Dean of the College of Dental Medicine Peter Keller, Nyguen and Alpha Omega secured several sponsors for their 5k run/walk-a-thon. In addition to donations from several local restaurants, Glaceau Vitamin Water will provide beverages on the day of the event. Design Forward Creative, a local graphic design company, worked with Nyguen to create the event’s t-shirt design and flyer.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work and passing out flyers nonstop,” Nyugen said. “We hope for a great turnout and to make this event meaningful to everyone.”

Event sponsors Patterson Dental, Benco Dental and Dynamic Dental Corporation are providing supplies for dental faculty and students to give free oral cancer screenings to participants.

Gertsen said, “We hope to make this an annual tradition, as oral cancer awareness is important to all of us in the dental profession. As the ‘physicians of the mouth’, we are responsible for the detection and the diagnosis of oral cancer.”

Students, faculty, staff and community members interested in participating in the run/walk-a-thon can register in advance online by searching “Oral Cancer Awareness 5k” at active.com, until Feb. 21 at noon. The walk costs $25, plus there will be a $1.50 park admission fee. For more information or to sign up as a volunteer, contact Uyen Nyguen at un5@nova.edu.

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