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Article updated: 6/13/2013 5:27 AM

Smiles for Bob 5k in Elgin fights esophageal cancer

Daughters start race in dad's memory


Meghan Geier remembers well the Dads Weekend during her sophomore year at the University of Illinois.

The father of a friend had just died. Knowing the weekend would be hard on her, Geier bought an extra ticket for the football game. The friends shared the day with Meghan's dad.

"My dad treated her like a daughter, even though it was the first time they had met," recalls Geier, now 26.

Meghan said people remember her father, Bob Geier of Elgin, for his big heart and warm smile, but only those memories remain. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in January 2011 and died on May 28 that same year. But out of tragedy, Meghan and her 25-year-old sister Kayla created a positive: They started a memorial run.

"Our goal is not to have thousands of racers but to do something in memory of our dad ... and bring awareness about esophageal cancer," said Kayla Geier, adding that they also honor other people who have died of esophageal cancer whose family and friends are in the 5K.

The second annual 5K will be held at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Elgin. The race starts 8 a.m. Saturday, June 22.

The sisters, along with a committee of family, friends, neighbors and community members, promote awareness through an informational booth and signs posted throughout the race, Meghan Geier said.

The signs contain facts about esophageal cancer and encouraging messages, like, "Bob is smiling down on you -- keep going!" she said. She hopes people will learn at least one thing about esophageal cancer and the symptoms.

According to The American Cancer Society website, the survival rate for esophageal cancer patients is among the lowest -- second only to pancreatic cancer. The five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer starts at 38 percent, and it decreases as the cancer spreads in the body.

All too frequently, people don't know the symptoms of esophageal cancer before it's too late, said Mindy Mordecai, CEO and director of the Esophageal Cancer Action Network, whose organization will receive the proceeds from the race.

When her husband was diagnosed in 2007 with esophageal cancer, she had no idea what it was nor that it was associated with acid reflux.

There are eight symptoms generally associated with esophageal cancer, but many people don't know that something as simple as a sore throat can mean cancer, she said.

This is why she started the organization: to raise awareness and to encourage professionals and organizations to direct their resources toward research, she said.

"We want people to associate acid reflux prevention and esophageal cancer just like sunscreen and skin cancer," she said, adding that events like the Smiles for Bob 5k are a good way to promote the message.

Joe Bagnasco of West Dundee, a committee member for the race who lost his wife and later his father to esophageal cancer, said he signed on to help with the race to help spread awareness about the disease.

"I guess it's just the message that I want people to take away: If you know someone with acid reflux or heartburn, get screened. Screening can be the difference between life and death," he said.

For more information on the race, interested runners and walkers can sign up the day of or preregister online at www.smiles4bob5k.com.

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