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Woman raises prostate cancer awareness

Jefferson Award-winner Debbie Baker
October 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Jefferson Awards recognize extraordinary people who volunteer and make their communities a better place.This month's Jefferson Award winner is a woman who wanted to make a difference after her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Debbie Baker turned a very popular car show into a way to publicize the importance of early diagnosis.

One Saturday in September each year, the Orange County Fairgrounds are filled with classic and custom cars.

Car shows in Southern California are far from unusual, but this one has a unique twist.

Crusin' for a Cure was the brainchild of Debbie Baker of Aliso Viejo. She came up with the idea after some bad medical news affected her family.

"My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer twelve years ago and I figured we needed something to do for the men. And I thought what better way to get the guys tested and have their cars at the same time and bring them in, and that's what we do," said Baker.

As it turns out, lots of men are into classic cars and those over forty are in the risk group for prostate cancer. So any of those men attending the show can get a free screening.

"We've tested over 8,000 in the last nine years, and every year, about 13 percent of men are tested positive and told to see their doctor," said Baker.

Debbie patrols the car show each year in her flag-adorned golf cart convincing men to get tested.

"She grabs guys by the arm or even by the ear and drags them over to the testing van!" described Ross Kroenert, the event's co-chairman.

Sadly, earlier this year, Debbie's husband Jim finally succumbed to prostate cancer, but that hasn't stopped her resolve. In fact, she's strengthened her resolve to make sure more men get tested, so they don't end up statistics as well.

"It's a simple ten minutes to fill out some papers and get the blood test, and show me your arm. I want to see that cotton ball on your arm that you went in there," said Baker.

She asks the prostate cancer survivors to come back each year and don special blue survivor shirts as sort of a reunion of those who did get tested and then beat the disease.

The show also raises money for cancer research. This year alone, Baker and her team were able to hand over a check to the City of Hope for $80,000.

She's already planning next year's show and corrects people who think it might end soon.