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A car show that saves lives, Cruisin’ for a Cure rolls into O.C. fairgrounds Saturday

The annual Cruisin' for a Cure car show, seen in 2019, offers free prostate cancer screenings for men over 40.
The annual Cruisin’ for a Cure car show, seen in 2019, offers free prostate cancer screenings for men over 40. The show comes to Costa Mesa’s O.C. fairgrounds on Saturday.
(Dave Parker Photos)

Cruisin’ for a Cure — an event that will draw thousands of classic vehicles (and their mostly male caretakers) to the Orange County fairgrounds this Saturday — may seem like just a car show, but it’s got ulterior motives.

In addition to a dizzying array of cars and trucks, the event will feature nearly 200 vendors and exhibitors, live music, cash prizes, food and activities for children. But beyond all that, the show will also provide free prostate cancer screenings for men over 40.

Lake Forest resident Debbie Baker started the show back in 1999, after her husband Jim, a car afficiando, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Feeling frustrated by how men took such great care of their vehicles but often ignored their own health, she decided to take action.

Lake Forest resident and Cruisin' for a Cure car show organizer Debbie Baker rides a golf cart at a recent event.
Lake Forest resident and Cruisin’ for a Cure car show organizer Debbie Baker rides a golf cart at a recent event. Baker started the show in 1991 as a way to incentivize men to receive free on-site prostate cancer screenings.
(Dave Parker Photos)

“Men are the worst. They have so many excuses — they don’t want to go to the doctor, they don’t want to fill out paperwork,” she recalled in a recent interview. “I thought, I need to do something for these guys to understand they need to be checked, just like women need to be checked.”

Baker created Cruisin’ for a Cure, not only as a way to raise money for the KSK Cancer Center of Irvine but to entice men of a certain age to get a quick and easy blood test that could save their lives.

“What better way to have guys get tested than to have their hotrods there, their toys?” she reasoned.

Her reasoning, it turns out, was sound. So far, the event has performed more than 15,000 free screenings for prostate-specific antigens, an indicator of abnormal prostate function, including cancer. From those screenings, more than 4,000 men were found to have high levels of PSA in their blood.

Among them is Carson Lev, a car enthusiast who used to work for Hot Wheels and started coming to Cruisin’ for a Cure in its early days to set up racing tracks for kids at the show.

Laguna Niguel resident and prostate cancer survivor Carson Lev with his 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air "Redphin."
Laguna Niguel resident Carson Lev with his 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air “Redphin.” Lev credits the annual “Cruisin’ for a Cure” event for saving his life, after a screening in 2003 detected high levels of prostate-specific antigen.
(Courtesy of Carson Lev)

Then in his 40s, prostate cancer wasn’t on his radar, so when Baker used to try to corral him for a screening, he’d politely decline.

“She’d come up in her golf cart, literally grab me by the arm and say, ‘Did you get your blood test?’” the Laguna Niguel resident recalled in an interview. “I’d tell her, ‘Go get that old guy over there.’”

As Lev approached 50, however, Baker doubled down in her efforts to get him tested and finally succeeded in 2003. He was shocked two weeks later when he got a letter in the mail from the clinic that had performed the screening, telling him to talk to a doctor.

His PSA levels were unusually high and would rise month after month, as doctors tested and treated him for other conditions. A biopsy later revealed Lev had early-stage prostate cancer. After undergoing surgery and treatment, the cancer was eradicated.

Lev recalled his doctor asking him what made him get tested at a relatively young age and with no symptoms. He told him about Baker.

“He told me, ‘That woman is your guardian angel. If you’d have been waiting for a symptom, you’d be waiting five to 10 years and, I’m going to tell you, I would have been fighting to save your life at that point,’” he said.

“Debbie is a very important person in my life.”

Daniel Morgan with a 1965 Mustang 298 his grandpa restored in 1983 as a gift for Morgan's aunt Beverly.
Daniel Morgan with a 1965 Mustang 298 his grandpa restored in 1983 as a gift for Morgan’s aunt Beverly. The car will be part of “Cruisin for a Cure” at the O.C. fairgrounds this Saturday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Over more than two decades, Cruisin’ for a Cure has drawn together not only car lovers of all kinds but also those who have a close and personal connection to prostate cancer.

Costa Mesa resident Beverly Morgan, for example, comes each year to show off the 1965 Mustang her father, Bill Morgan, lovingly restored for her as a gift in 1984. The show gives her an opportunity to talk more about her “Pops,” who died of prostate cancer in 2011.

“He loved cars and wrenching on them,” Morgan said, recalling how her dad found the car in a barn with a nest of mice living in the engine and spent the next year tinkering away, sending photos of his progress through the mail.

Bob Morgan, in an undated photo, poses with a 1965 Ford Mustang he rebuilt and gifted to daughter Beverly.
Bob Morgan, in an undated photo, poses with a 1965 Ford Mustang he rebuilt and gifted to daughter Beverly.
(Courtesy of Beverly Morgan)

After he passed, she began attending Cruisin’ for a Cure. Now her 18-year-old nephew, Daniel Morgan, will take the Mustang out for a spin, care for it and attend the show alongside her.

“I just want to keep Bill Morgan’s spirit alive and do it through this car he lovingly restored in such detail,” she said. “I think he’d be proud of that.”

Cruisin’ for a Cure takes place Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a vehicle procession starting at 9 a.m. Admission is $17, and kids under 12 are free. Parking costs $10. The fairgrounds are located at 88 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa. For more, visit cruisinforacure.com.

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