Jeff Cook didn’t know when he signed up for a cancer fundraiser in 2017 that his efforts would lead to helping people in ways he never imagined.
The 2017 American Cancer Society fundraiser was “Real Men Wear Pink” and Cook raised about $120,000, primarily from local donations, more than anyone else in the program nationwide.
Fighting cancer became a mission for him, and he’s sharing some of the ripple effect of his efforts. In Fairbanks next week, special genetic testing will be introduced as a benefit for employees of Foundation Health Partners.
“On my 75th birthday back in November, my family and an anonymous donor set up a fund at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, so any of the 1,800 employees can get a genetic test for no cost,” Jeff Cook said.
The official roll-out of this new optional employee benefit happens Tuesday.
Mary-Claire King, the researcher responsible for discovering the gene in question — the BRCA2 gene — will speak at the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday and again at the hospital Tuesday afternoon. She was the first to demonstrate that breast cancer is inherited in some families and she will discuss the value and advances in genetic testing and related topics.
Cook learned about this gene testing when his daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. She tested positive for the BRCA2 gene, letting her know she was at increased risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Cook promptly had his entire family get tested for the gene. Five of his family members tested positive and are now monitored regularly. Knowing they have the gene allows them to manage the risk, rather than just react to the risk.
Cook’s mission against cancer continued as he began working with the BRCA Foundation out of San Francisco.
As a result of that work, he spearheaded bringing two cancer warriors to Fairbanks. The first is Mary Claire-King, the researcher who discovered the BRCA2 gene. Her work in genetics has been used worldwide. She pioneered the use of DNA sequencing for human rights investigations. She has helped identify genetic causes of severe inherited disorders in Middle Eastern families, to identify victims of human rights abuses around the world and reunite many South Americans with their parents who had been “disappeared” or murdered by their government. She also helped identify the remains of loved ones missing in conflicts from World War II through Vietnam and has consulted with the UN’s Forensic Anthropology Team.
Othman Laraki will also be in Fairbanks on Tuesday. He is the co-founder of the company called “Color,” which provides affordable and accurate genetic testing to help people determine if they are at risk for a variety of cancers and heart conditions. This is the company that will provide the optional genetic testing for hospital employees.
According to Cook, Laraki and his family members discovered they all have the BRCA2 gene.
“He took his wealth and came up with a better test and a more affordable test,” Cook said. “So money and motivation are good things.”
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.