by Debra Merritt, advocate



Debra (pictured  right) at the ASCO conference

On November 14, 2008 my journey with cancer began with my husband Cliff’s stage IV colon cancer diagnosis. We had lived an amazing life, married as students in college at the age of 20, and were just four days away from our 30th anniversary and six days away from his 51st birthday. We had two beautiful daughters in college.

Cliff began to experience severe abdominal cramps which led to a colonoscopy and to the diagnosis a few days later.

As soon as Cliff was diagnosed, he made it his mission to encourage everyone we knew to get a colonoscopy. He made sure that they were informed about the importance of an early diagnosis.

His friends and colleagues even held an annual golf tournament in his honor intended to help us with medical expenses, but Cliff insisted that the money go to cancer research funding instead.


Cliff passed away from colon cancer after three and a half years, but made me promise to continue to do everything possible to save lives through early detection. That promise led me to involvement with Fight Colorectal Cancer as an advocate.

I participated in Call-on Congress last March where I met with my legislators on Capitol Hill in support of cancer research funding and legislation for colon cancer screenings. And most recently, I attended the annual meeting of American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) at the end of May.


When I was invited to attend the ASCO conference, I quickly accepted, thinking that it would be a wonderful avenue to meet with other advocates and be trained on how to better educate the public, as well as my friends and family, about colon cancer and early detection. Little did I know that I would be gifted with an experience that is hard to explain to anyone who has not sat in a room of thousands of clinical oncologists, researchers and faculty who are up to their necks in finding out everything that is new, current and in the near future to fight cancer.

During one session I could not help but think, “How on earth did I go from battling Cliff’s cancer in our little Louisiana town of 10,000 to a conference with 30,000+ oncologists listening to a researcher from Barcelona, Spain talk about molecular structure?”

It was amazing to hear so much promise in what is being discovered daily about fighting cancer, including targeted therapy based on DNA and molecular structure. These treatments open the door for so many more drugs to be used.

The presentation slide that made the most impact on me during the conference simply stated:

“If oncology is the study of cancer biology, then the definition of the oncologist of the future must be a clinical cancer biologist.

There is so much being discovered every day through cancer research and we must make sure that the funding stays strong!

My ASCO experience involved meeting with other advocates,  sharing stories of surviving cancer and experiencing loss, using our experiences to help others, getting to know the Fight Colorectal Cancer staff, representing the organization at our booth and getting to meet staff from Caris Life Sciences, the organization that sponsored me to attend ASCO – priceless moments that made the ASCO experience even better.


Thank you once again to Caris Life Sciences for my sponsorship, to Fight Colorectal Cancer for making my voice for Cliff even louder and to whoever came up with the idea to have those people at ASCO with the question mark signs…definitely my favorite people there!

The Research Advocacy Training & Support (RATS) program at Fight Colorectal Cancer trains patient advocates who bring a patient and caregiver perspective into the research process. These individuals touched by colorectal cancer volunteer their time to learn the latest in colorectal cancer science. This year Caris Life Sciences sponsored a scholarship for two of our RATS members to attend the annual ASCO conference. Click here to learn more about RATS.


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