If you want to raise awareness among men about breast cancer, a big poker tournament offers a captive audience.
And if you want the message to stick, introduce the men in that captive audience to a breast cancer survivor they can relate to: another man.
On Saturday, the fifth annual Cards for the Cure poker tournament – an event that’s raised $195,000 for the Kansas Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure during its existence – featured special guest Bret Miller, a breast cancer survivor from Kansas City.
Miller, who spoke at the beginning of play on Saturday, also participated in the tournament, projecting a confident air despite his self-proclaimed lack of poker skill.
He’s the founder of the Bret Miller 1T Foundation, which organizes survivors and sends them to speak to high school and college students about early detection. Miller frequently shares his own story: He seemed like a healthy 24-year-old, but he’d had a lump in his right breast since he was 17. Doctors weren’t too concerned about it, but during a physical, one doctor decided to take a closer look and found that the lump was cancerous.
Two years ago, Miller had a mastectomy, the results of which are shown on his website, www.checkthem.org.
His main goal, said Miller, who is in the midst of filming a documentary about male breast cancer, was to remind men that they aren’t immune to the disease.
“Men can get it, too,” he said. “Men have breasts, too.”
Cards for the Cure was the brainchild of Spike Anderson, a local financial adviser who became obsessed with poker playing during his days as a Wichita State University baseball player.
“I learned it in the back of the baseball bus going on road trips,” he said.
Anderson had a group of buddies he played with once a month, and 10 years ago, they decided to start the Valley Center Poker Tournament, which raises money for scholarships for Valley Center students. The 10th annual event happens on Feb. 7.
They became so adept at running that tournament that they decided to start one that would happen in Wichita, too. In 2011, they put on the first Cards for the Cure event and put the proceeds toward breast cancer research.
One year, the tournament attracted more than 900 players, each of whom paid $100 per person to play. This year, about 550 players crowded into the Beech Activity Center for the Texas Hold’em tournament, which attracts female players, too, as well as poker players from all over the region. They were all different ages and races, and many were wearing the typical poker tournament uniform seen on television: baseball caps slung low, sunglasses and ear buds.
Every now and then, players would stand up, gather their things and head for the door, many stopping on the way out to tell Anderson their tale of poker defeat. One man had pocket Kings and bet it all, only to be beaten by a neighbor, holding a 10 and a six, who had a full house.
Anderson expected play to continue until around 10 p.m. on Saturday, when a winner – the last person standing – would be named. The top 50 players took home cash prizes, and the winner got $10,000.
Anderson said he hoped the tournament would raise more than $50,000 this year, and the take will be boosted by two auxiliary events: A high-rollers game with a $500 buy-in that happened on Friday night and a “Ladies Only” poker game that happened later on Saturday afternoon.
“People are attracted to the game, and this is the simplest form of poker,” Anderson said. “It’s like a universal language.”