Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip, Maryellen Goodwin, Honored by Colorectal Cancer Screening Act

On April 30, Rhode Island governor Dan McKee signed into law the “Maryellen Goodwin Colorectal Cancer Screening Act.” This legislation, advanced by a coalition led by Catalyst grantee, ACS CAN Rhode Island, will help increase access to colorectal cancer (CRC) screening by removing out-of-pocket costs for patients needing a colonoscopy following a positive noninvasive screening test such as FIT or Cologuard®

Not only was this an incredible victory for the CRC community, this was also a deeply personal victory for one of Rhode Island’s longest-serving legislators. The bill was named for Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a 33-year public servant, the youngest woman ever elected to the Rhode Island State Senate, and a stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. 

A Life of Public Service

Goodwin has spent her entire adult life in public service. She was first elected to public office at age 19 as a delegate to the constitutional convention. At age 22, she was elected to the Rhode Island State Senate where she has worked her way up to Majority Whip, the third highest leadership position in the Senate. 

When Goodwin first began working on this legislation in 2018, she didn’t have a personal connection to CRC. She understood the value in increasing access to screening and felt that this was common-sense policy. She had no idea that the next year this legislation would take on a whole new meaning for her.

When CRC Became Personal, So Did Her Legislative Fight

Roughly a year later, at the age of 53, Goodwin was diagnosed with stage IV CRC. She had experienced some symptoms, but nothing she gave much thought to, and otherwise felt completely healthy. She was working two jobs, waking up early, and often working late into the evenings. Her diagnosis caught her completely off guard. She began chemo and has continued to work throughout treatment. She has not missed a single day of work in the Senate. 

When she reintroduced the legislation in 2020, it had taken on a whole new meaning. Though she knew it was too late for this legislation to help her, she hopes it will help other people avoid hearing the words, “you have cancer.” As a show of support, Sen. Goodwin’s colleagues surprised her by naming the legislation in her honor

Sen. Goodwin believes this legislation will help save lives. CRC is the second-leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined, but is preventable through screening and treatable if caught early. “I don’t know how much more time I have on this earth, but I will guarantee you I will spend every waking moment talking about the importance of early screening,” said Sen. Goodwin.

Goodwin encourages people to get involved in policy change in their state by reaching out to their local legislator: “People will find that legislators are responsive - call them, email them, have a chat -- that’s what we're here for. We are public servants. We are here to serve the public.” 

If you want to learn more about what is happening in your state check out our state one pagers for an overview of CRC screening policy in your state. Reach out to our advocacy team to learn more about getting involved in your state.

Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Catalyst State-by-State Advocacy Program provides funding, technical assistance, and support to state coalitions working to advance policies to increase access to CRC screening. To date, we have supported work in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Texas. 

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