Posted by March 12th, 2007
Five months ago, one of our volunteers, Rob Michelson, suggested that C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition send a request to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to ring the Opening Bell during the month of March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Rob works for the NYSE.
We sent off the letter but said to ourselves, “No way that’s going to happen” (we consider ourselves realists, not pessimists). But with Rob’s tenacity and hope – the same stuff that is getting him through his colorectal cancer fight – we managed to get a last minute invitation late on Friday, March 2nd, to ring the opening bell last Monday, March 5th.
We leapt at the chance. What follows is what happens when a neophyte advocacy group like ours gets the chance of a lifetime.
3:00 PM, the day before
I am on the train up to New York from Washington, DC. I am so excited that I want to tell all my fellow travelers that I am going up to ring the Opening Bell of the New York Stock Exchange. But I don’t.
8:50 PM, the night before
Our public relations folks have been working the financial media all day today, trying to get them to simply mention C3 and/or Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month as the bell rings in the morning. The push will continue starting at 7 AM Monday. As a former PR person, I have realistic expectations that our chances are slim that we will get our wish. But as the Eternal Optimist, I also have talking points for a 60-second live television interview.
9:05 PM, the night before
I learn that there is a back-up bell in case something goes wrong at the podium. I start wondering if it would hurt or help the organization if I were to do something completely nuts up there. Not a bad-nuts, just a get-us-on-the-evening-news-nuts.
The morning news is reporting that Asian markets dropped overnight, indicating that the US market will open low. I wonder if this will hurt or help our chances of getting a mention at the bell ringing.
We are on our way! “Wall and Broad” I say to the cab driver in as bored a voice as possible as if it’s just another Monday morning.
We make our way through security. Eugene with the NYSE welcomes us and escorts us to our holding room.
When we arrive at the holding room, a group of NYSE staff are waiting for us, including the NYSE photographer. We chat. I give them colorectal cancer Blue Star of Hope pins to wear on their lapels. Everyone is extremely friendly. They are thanking us as if we’ve done them a favor.
The holding room reminds me of the United States Capitol. Ornate walls and columns, painted with gold accents. Thirty-foot high ceilings. The holding room opens into the Board Room, and we go in to look around. There is a clock from the original stock exchange that is 140 years old and a Faberge urn given to the NYSE by Czar Nicholas II.
There are three flat screen televisions on one wall of the Board Room. The center TV has a shot of the podium with the C3 logo above it. My stomach gets butterflies.
The photographer takes a picture of us in the room. I say a silent prayer to the Gods of Nothing in My Teeth.
Presents! We are each given a gold medallion to commemorate our day. It is heavy and inscribed with a picture of a bull goring what looks to be a goat. I wonder if I’d paid better attention in Econ I’d understand what the heck that means. Below the picture it says, “C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Opening Bell Ceremony March 5, 2007.” Might be the coolest thing I’ve ever been given in my life.
Time to move! We leave the holding room and walk down a short hallway into an elevator, down some stairs and suddenly, I’m on the podium, looking onto the exchange floor, about 15 feet down. It’s not the bustle of activity that I was picturing. There are pockets of people standing on the floor looking up at us. I wave maniacally at them. At stations of computers directly below us, there are others who are completely unaware of our presence. They look concerned. I can’t see what is happening on the rest of the floor, as the view is blocked by the computer stations.
I scan the room for Maria Bartiromo.
Immediately in front of us, about 10 feet away, is a bank of cameras and a large LCD clock. We are instructed to always look at the cameras and not at the folks on the floor.
There are several of us on the podium: the NYSE employees who greeted us in the holding room and three people from C3.
C3 is represented by Rob Michelson, our volunteer who was the driving force behind this. Rob’s a great guy. He has stage IV colorectal cancer. He has had part of his lung removed because his cancer had metastasized there. He’s 40 years old; the father of three.
Officially, the NYSE wanted me to ring the bell, since I’m the head of the organization. But I’m here because I was fortunate enough to have C3 choose me to be its Executive Director. Rob’s here because he’s fighting for his life. We have switched places so that he can be the one who pushes the button.
Standing to my left is Kate Murphy, C3’s Director of Research Communications. Kate’s a legend in the colorectal cancer community. She was diagnosed 23 years ago with stage III colorectal cancer and is a repository of information on the latest in research and treatment for colorectal cancer – which is why she writes C3’s Research News blog. She hasn’t stopped smiling since we arrived and now it looks like she might swoon with excitement.
The clock in front of us starts to flash. This is our cue to get ready. At 9:29:30, we start clapping. At 9:29:50, Rob pushes the button for ten seconds. The bell is located behind Kate. It is loud.
This is one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.
I promised my husband that I would cough into my hand as a way of giving a shout-out to him on national television. I don’t want to forget to do that. Hilary Swank forgot to thank Chad Lowe when she won her Oscar – and look where that got them.
Rob’s face as he presses the button is priceless. He could light the earth with that smile. I am moved to tears.
For C3, today’s opportunity was a real gift. In just two days, our web site traffic has increased by 75% percent and we have received attention from all over the country because of it. And we did get mentioned on CNBC and the announcer said that Colorectal Cancer Coalition was ringing the bell in honor of colon cancer awareness month! Time will clearly tell us the effect that it had, but I felt the shift when I was up there on that podium.
Most significant is the impact this will have on the colorectal cancer community. Colorectal cancer patients and caregivers are regularly frustrated by the lack of attention that is given to this disease and they sometimes feel that the world does not recognize how scary, awful, painful and heartbreaking it can be. Today, we stood on the podium, rang the Opening Bell of the NYSE and said to the hundreds of thousands of Americans living with this colorectal cancer, “You matter. We are fighting for you.” It was an honor and a privilege for us all to do that.