Colorado Legislature Marks Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

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Colorado Capitol

Yesterday was lump in the throat day!

I was at the Colorado capitol  watching when a resolution was passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives declaring March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.  While March is recognized nationally by the United State Congress, watching it happen in one of the many states who also help raise awareness touched me and brought a few tears thinking of how far we have come in the ten years since March was first declared Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — and how far we have to go.

March 4 was 2009 Colorado Lobby Day sponsored by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the halls just outside of the Senate and House of Representatives were crowded with ACS volunteers meeting “in the lobby” with their state legislators.  I’m a New Yorker, but felt like an honorary citizen of Colorado — another lump in the throat as we pushed for a bill to require state insurance companies to cover the costs of routine care when patients are involved in clinical trials.

Later I spoke at a lunchtime seminar at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. During my talk I reflected on the progress we’ve made over the past ten years to make people aware that colorectal cancer can actually be prevented and to improve treatment for the disease.

There was a time a little over ten years ago that nobody talked about colon or rectal cancer.  There were no national organizations dedicated to advocacy or patient support.  Nobody crawled through giant colons or urged people to be screened.  Irinotecan had just been added to our tiny stock of armaments for fighting colorectal cancer . . . oxaliplatin, Avastin, and Erbitux were yet to come.  Medicare wasn’t yet covering colonoscopies.

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University of Colorado Cancer Center

After my talk, I had lunch with researcher Dr. Al Marcus,  and RN Susan Rein, who is working to connect uninsured patients to screening as part of the Colorado Colorectal Screening Program. Although the program connects patients who need screening to doctors who provide colonoscopies, money for treatment is sharply limited.  We talked about how hard it is to find cancers through screening and struggle to help uninsured and low-income people pay for treatment.

Survivor Erika Brown took me swimming in the morning reminding me that people who have been treated for colon or rectal cancer do go on to healthy and strong lives.

Lots of work to do . . . this March, this year, and in the future.

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