Lance Mackey Remembered As A Famed Iditarod Dog Sled Racer And Throat Cancer Warrior
- Four-time Iditarod winner Lance Mackey, 52, was a warrior against throat cancer, a disease he suffered twice.
- His death on September 7, 2022 was announced in a Facebook post by his kennel and was immediately mourned by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with officials saying he “embodied the spirit of the race.”
- Mackey became the only musher to win both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race — a competition between Canada and Alaska.
- Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer, where cancerous cells start growing in the throat, voice box, or tonsils.
His death on September 7, 2022 was announced in a Facebook post by his kennel and was immediately mourned by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.Read More
“Lance embodied the Spirit of the Race, the tenacity of an Alaskan musher, displayed the ultimate show of perseverance and was loved by his fans,” the post read. “Our condolences go out to his family, friends, fans and the mushing community.”
Back on August 5th, Mackey opened up about being diagnosed with throat cancer for a second time in a Facebook post written as he was hospitalized and under 24-hour care.
He described the last several months as the “hardest/worst part.”
Mackey became the only musher to win both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race — a competition between Canada and Alaska — in the same year in 2007, according to Alaska Public Media.
But it was the highly competitive Iditarod dog sled race that made him famous.
The competition requires each participant (also known as mushers) to be led by 14 dogs and travel across 1,000 miles of ice, snow, rocks, and hazardous weather conditions over the course of 8 to 15 days.
It’s a grueling process, but for Mackey it was a sport he looked forward to every year.
In Mackey’s documentary, ‘The Great Alone‘, the champion described his experience preparing for the world’s toughest sports competitions when he found out about his initial throat cancer diagnosis in 2001.
Despite his diagnosis, Mackey competed in the 2002 race but was unsuccessful.
But when the race was over, Mackey underwent radiation therapy for cancer treatment, and was declared “cancer free.”
What is Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer, where cancerous cells start growing in the throat, voice box, or tonsils.
The main causes of the disease include smoking, drinking, a diet without fruits or vegetables and acid reflux disease.
Currently, there’s no annual screening guidelines for throat cancer unlike other types of cancers such as breast, lung, colon, or prostate.
However, there are symptoms of the disease that you can look out for and consult your doctor about if you feel like you’re exhibiting signs of throat cancer.
These symptoms can include a persistent cough, changes in your voice, difficulty swallowing, ear pain, a lump or sore in the neck that will not heal, persistent sore throat or unexplained weight loss.
“In the majority of patients, [throat cancer] does not cause symptoms in the throat but instead first presents with an otherwise asymptomatic mass in the neck,” Dr. Ryan Hughes, a radiation oncologist at Wake Forest School of Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet.
“While many of these symptoms can be caused by non-cancer diagnoses such as respiratory infections, warning signs include progression of these symptoms over several weeks and a lack of improvement with conservative measures like antibiotics,” he said.
Lance Mackey’s Victory After Cancer
Due to the radiation therapy, Mackey experienced side effects such as nerve damage, which caused unbearable pain in his finger that led to an amputation.
Despite missing a finger and being fresh out of cancer treatment, Mackey immediately started training again for his next competition.
Mackey won his first the Iditarod in 2007, and clenched victory three consecutive years after his first win.
It’s a tradition that runs in Mackey’s family.
His father, Dick Mackey, not only was one of the the founders of the Iditarod, but competed in the competition when Mackey was a child.
He narrowly won the competition in 1978, and inspired Mackey’s own love of the sport.
Advocating For Your Health
Mackey’s cancer fight is a lesson to all in advocating for your health.
When you see a doctor for a problem, don’t hesitate to make sure that your question is fully answered and that you are comfortable with the plan moving forward.
From a doctor’s perspective, every problem should have a diagnosis, a treatment, a plan for follow-up, and a plan for what happens next if the treatment doesn’t work.
If you’re not getting in for care as quickly as you think you should be, go to someone else. Ring another hospital. Go to the emergency room. Don’t stop trying. Even if it requires multiple visits or seeing additional providers for a second opinion, always be your own advocate—and reach out for help to a professional or family member if needed.