Participants of the 20th annual Fran DeLisle Cancer Fund Walk-a-thon pose for a photo at The Chilkoot Trail Outpost on June 6. This was the first time DeLisle was able to attend in five years. Photo by Elise Giordano


Just 23 years ago, while working as a bartender at Red Onion Saloon, Fran DeLisle was diagnosed with cancer.

As word traveled across town about DeLisle’s struggle, the community rallied by her side for what proved to be the fight of a lifetime.

“Fran’s had a really rough life. It seems like anything bad that came around hit Fran, and yet she still had a positive attitude,” said Barb Brodersen, board member of Fran DeLisle Cancer Awareness Fund. “And it was pretty obvious, well should be, that she was fighting breast cancer at the time. Some of us knew about it and we all decided maybe we should do something about that.”

After receiving treatment in ’96 DeLisle worked closely with current board members Wendy Anderson and Barb Brodersen to push for greater pre-cancer examination. DeLisle’s fight against breast cancer has been a whirlwind, but in the aftermath of that initial battle the people of Skagway have seen an incredible difference in preventative care for all kinds of cancer, including mammogram vans, well women exams, pap smears and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing.

Since it started, the Fran DeLisle Cancer Awareness Walkathon has nearly doubled in size, with an average of 80-90 walkers per year. In 2017 participants raised $18,457, which goes directly toward the cost of transportation and testing of individuals diagnosed in Skagway.

“Pre-examination is what it’s all about, so we don’t deal with full-blown cancer, and my favorite thing about the rules we made up originally is that the money stays in Skagway,” Brodersen said. “It doesn’t go into any black hole, as the cancer research is to me.”

Skagway has continued to expand on health care resources, including a pre-cancer workshop that the Fran DeLisle Cancer Awareness Fund began financially assisting in 2016. The first year there were 16 residents that attended and two were sent to Juneau for further testing. In 2017, 61 residents attended the pre-cancer workshop and 11 were sent down for further testing.

Lea Mauldin, acting President of the Fran DeLisle Cancer Awareness Fund, believes that early detection is a crucial step toward saving the lives of cancer patients.

Mauldin believes that living in a small town like Skagway has placed a greater emphasis on cancer and the havoc it wreaks on its population of less than 1,000 residents.

To her, the optimism of neighbors and loved ones fighting cancer is truly inspiring.

“That’s the thing that I’ve noticed around here and knowing so many survivors is you have to be strong and you have to have a good attitude and you have to go in with a good mindset that “OK, yeah, this is scary and terrifying but I am going to beat this,” Mauldin said. “I think that mindset really helps.”

Since January, the group’s 11 board members have met regularly to discuss logistics for the 23rd Annual Fran DeLisle Cancer Walkathon that will take place on Saturday, June 2. This is Mauldin’s first time holding the director’s hat, which she admits to causing a lot of fear and trepidation, however, she is constantly reassured by her board members and trusts that the event will go smoothly.

As of 2018 there are now three ways to walk: Skagway to Dyea, Dyea to Skagway and Long Bay to Skagway.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. at the Elks and ends at 9:15 a.m. The fee is $20 for ages 12 and up, which includes a shirt and lunch at the Elks. Entry fees are waived for participants who raise $250 or more.

Though DeLisle has made an appearance in the past, Mauldin says it is unlikely that she will be in attendance this year.