Mention the "C" word to Brian Mahon, and he's off and running — and talking and talking. Any chance he gets, Mahon spreads the word about cancer, or more importantly cancer prevention.
His passion comes from a promise he made to a beloved longtime friend, "Big Jeff" Walker, who died of kidney cancer in 1997. He was 42.
"Jeff asked only two things of me," said Mahon, 53, of Castle Rock. " ‘Never climb a mountain without me.' And, second, ‘Get the word out: Cancer prevention and early detection is the key.' "
Because of the work he's done to get the word out, Mahon, a physician's assistant at Kaiser Permanente in Longview, recently received the 2009 David Lawrence Community Service Award.
The award is in honor of Dr. David Lawrence, former CEO of Kaiser and lifelong advocate of improving health. The service award recognizes "individuals and groups that have demonstrated extraordinary efforts to improve the health of our communities," according to Kaiser's Web site. The award "aims to honor exemplary service and also to inspire others toward community service."
Mahon was among nine individuals and four groups from Kaiser's eight regions to receive the 2009 award. They were selected from 180 nominees companywide, and Mahon was the only employee from Kaiser's Northwest Region to receive the honor.
Mahon's wife, Cathy, who also is a physician's assistant, and another Kaiser colleague, Dr. Albert Luh, nominated him for the award, which includes $10,000 for the recipient to donate to a nonprofit of his or her choice.
"I wanted to give $1,000 to 10 organizations because Jeff touched so many people," Mahon said Monday, "but they gently suggested I pick out just one or two."
He plans to give half to the local Hospice and the other half to one ("hopefully two," he said) nursing schools back East, which helped him with his training "when I was just a bum on the street," he quipped.
Since his friend's death, Mahon has spoken to high school health classes, at health fairs and at workplace wellness sessions four to five times a month. His target audience is men and teens.
He also created the Cascade Cancer Challenge, an annual mountain-climbing event to raise awareness of cancer prevention. In 2008, he designed the "Ultimate Thriving Machine" calendar, which urged men to take five minutes a month to schedule cancer prevention and tend to preventive measures. With donations from PeaceHealth, he's since turned the calendar information into a 16-page "owner's manual" for men. He plans to give them out any time he speaks.
His presentations are filled with humor, catchy phrases and "true-life" stories, whether it's about his late five-pack-a-day-smoking father or the profound impact Walker had in his life. His emphasis is on prevention, detection and screening for lung, prostrate, colon, oral, testicular and skin cancers.
"You always see T-shirts saying 'Cancer Survivor.' I'd rather see a T-shirt saying 'Cancer Screening Survivor.'"
Though honored to receive the award, Mahon said his continuing to get the word out for Jeff is what's most important to him.
"Even if I didn't get this award, as long as my brain works and my lips move and these lungs breathe, I think of Jeff," Mahon said, his eyes filling with tears. "I want to honor him. This award is not because of me, it's because of Jeff. I'm just an ordinary guy who had an extraordinary friend."