Alaska News

Mushing champion Lance Mackey: “I was diagnosed with cancer again”

Alaska musher Lance Mackey, 51, posted a short message this week seeking a temporary home for his 20 sled dogs.

“Believe me when I say I’m PISSED about what I’m about to say,” Mackey wrote on his Facebook page.

“My winter plans just changed yet again,” he continued.

“I was diagnosed with cancer again and being a single father has made s--t (a bit) different from my winter plans.”

Believe me when I say I’m PISSED about what I’m about to say / ask …I’m not good about asking for help in any form — but...

Posted by Lance Mackey on Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Mackey is seeking to house his dogs in a serious kennel for the season, saying he plans to return to racing in the future. As of Thursday, he had managed to find a temporary home for half his team, with arrangements for the other 10 dogs “pending.”

Mackey spoke by phone from his property outside Fairbanks, where he was with friends winterizing his house in advance of heading south for treatment. After next Monday, he’s not sure when he will next be home.

There is some uncertainty about his living arrangements while he works on a treatment plan with a team at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage. “There’s talk of Seattle, hasn’t been confirmed,” he said.


Cancer is back in his throat, but is a different type than what he battled the first time around.

“Twenty years ago I was diagnosed at the late stages, beat down and unhealthy. This time around it was caught in the early stage,” Mackey said. “I have no doubt that I’ll be just fine.”

For years, Mackey has been a fan favorite, cultivating a broad base of supporters far beyond Alaska who have felt inspired by his tumultuous life story and ascension to mushing’s highest echelons.

After surviving throat cancer, Mackey posted an unrivaled string of victories in the mid- to late-2000s, winning four back-to-back Iditarod and Yukon Quest races in a row by 2010. His life was the subject of a well-received independent documentary film, “The Great Alone,” released in 2015.

Since then, he has struggled to crack the Iditarod’s top 20 and lived through a litany of health challenges and personal tragedies.

Cancer treatments diminished his physical abilities, making his hands extremely susceptible to cold because of Raynaud’s syndrome. In 2020, Mackey finished the Iditarod in 21st place but was disqualified after testing positive for methamphetamine. He entered treatment shortly afterward. Then, in October of that year, his partner, Jenne Smith, died in an ATV accident, leaving Mackey to care for the couple’s two young children.

“My kids have been through some s--t in the last year, as have I, “ Mackey said. “But if you ever had a reason to fight, kids are the reason.”

“Dogs are a part of my life, my kids are my entire life,” he added.

Mackey described a new type of cancer reappearing in the same part of his body as “really uncommon.”

“This isn’t unfamiliar territory to me,” he said. “I don’t exactly know why I keep getting the short straw.”

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.