Health Equity and Colorectal Cancer
Fight CRC is committed to ensuring all Americans have access to quality health care and can live a healthy life, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, and socioeconomic status.
As we mourn the tragedies that have unfolded across the country, we are driven to embrace all parts of our community to carry a banner of hope. We are asking ourselves, “What can we do? How can we be there for our community?” Our efforts require persistence and dedication to advocating for and with those who are facing unequal access to health care.
We know that you are relentless and that together we can reduce health disparities by keeping our attention focused on the challenges of our country including structural racism, poverty, and barriers to health care and preventive services.
The post-COVID re-opening of screening and surgery doors is likely to bring these inequities into tragically sharp focus, as underserved communities face greater hurdles seeking cancer-prevention and life-saving treatments. It is our responsibility to not only identify the gaps but to also advocate for equal access to care.
Fight CRC surveyed colorectal cancer patients and caregivers to find out the challenges they’re facing during the COVID-19 era. Findings included rural and Medicare populations have been disproportionately affected. Read more.
We stand in solidarity with all members of our community and are committed to doing our part to address our country’s difficult challenges. As advocates, we can empower our community to change the status quo and take action to promote change! Use your voice. Share your story. Vote. Lives are at stake.
Together we can reduce health disparities by keeping our attention focused on the challenges of our country including structural racism, poverty, and barriers to health care and preventive services.
What is Health Equity?
Health equity means everyone has access to quality health care and can live a healthy life, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, and socioeconomic status.
Fight CRC’s Health Equity Committee
Fight CRC has committed to reducing disparities. In addition to recognizing the needs of our patients, the Health Equity Committee was formed to help shape the culture of our diversity and inclusion and better engage our employees, survivors, patients, and caregivers.
The Health Equity Committee consists of collaborative physicians, survivors, caregivers or front-line staff who serve as diversity champions and “model the way,” to address diversity issues and collectively promote health equity initiatives and to positively impact our organization and the communities we serve.
Health Equity Committee Members
Anjee Davis, MPPA
“Healthcare and advocacy are naturally connected. As the president of Fight CRC, addressing health disparities is a priority. Our team has worked hard to provide a safe place for survivors to feel represented and accepted, and we are constantly learning and improving. This committee represents the leaders and committed advocates — people who are willing to push on policies that address access to care, recruitment to clinical trials, and tackle the healthcare gap in the United States for colorectal cancer patients and their families. We hope to amplify the diversity of lived experiences and reduce health disparities.“
“People of color experience higher levels of adversity, including economic, social inequities, and racism creating high levels of stress and less than favorable health outcomes that lead to higher incident and mortality rates within colorectal cancer. I hope we can all come together to reduce these racial and ethnic disparities within colorectal cancer.“
Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH
“A person’s zip code is a stronger determinant of their health than their genetic code.”
Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, works tirelessly for change and to break down barriers to good health. A medical oncologist by training, she has authored or coauthored more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles examining multi-sectoral approaches to improving cancer care access, delivery, and outcomes. She leads the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control (DCPC), the largest unit within CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. As director of DCPC, she works with partners of all types and sizes to improve opportunities for everyone to live a long and healthy life. Under her leadership, DCPC’s four national programs – the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, the National Program of Cancer Registries, the Colorectal Cancer Control Program and the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program – are advancing research and evidence-based strategies to improve prevention and early detection of cancer; address health disparities and risk factors; and affect meaningful change in the care and treatment of people living with cancer. Dr. Richardson also provides guidance for the Division’s research agenda that includes the National Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network.
Fola May, MD, PhD
“Until we address the lowest screening rates in the most disadvantaged communities in the United States, we can not win the battle against colorectal cancer.”
Dr. May is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and a staff physician in Gastroenterology in the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System. Dr. May graduated from Yale University with a degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and then attended the University of Cambridge (UK) to obtain a Masters in Epidemiology. She attended Harvard Medical School and trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital before joining the UCLA Specialty Training and Advanced Research (STAR) Program, where she completed her gastroenterology fellowship and a PhD in Health Policy and Management from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Currently, she is the Director of Quality Improvement in Gastroenterology for UCLA Health and the Director of the May Lab at UCLA Health, which performs epidemiological studies, health services research, and implementation science to address suboptimal cancer screening rates overall and among racial and ethnic minorities. This work includes the evaluation of interventions to improve colorectal cancer screening and follow-up after abnormal screening at UCLA Health, in the VA, and in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in Los Angeles. In her role as Director of Grants and Postgraduate Research for the UCLA Global Health Program, Dr. May strives to increase clinical care capacity and strengthen health systems for underserved populations in global settings. Currently, she resides in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
“As advocates in the cancer world, we’re often asked who ‘exactly’ we advocate for: Patients, survivors, or families? We often answer: ‘All three.’ True enough. But all things being equal — and here’s the point:They’re not all equal, sociologically speaking, when it comes to cancer and colorectal cancer screening. So today we also fight for the not-yet-patients, the not-yet screened—of ALL ages. The overlooked, ‘the silent, pre-diagnosed.’ So we remember: What beats even the most fantastic cancer treatment? Preventing the cancer in the first place.“
Curt Pesmen is an author, advocate, documentary producer and Cofounder of BoCo Media, LLC. He serves as Research Advocate for Fight Colorectal Cancer and Advocate Reviewer for the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). In addition to serving as associate producer of the hit documentary, Keep On Keepin’ On (Radius 2014), and executive producer of LIV, a documentary short film (2019), he also has written material for the Emmy award-winning film, Chasing Ice (2013). He is author of the nonfiction health title, How A Man Ages, for Random House, The Colon CancerSurvivors’ Guide (Tatra Press), and more recently wrote, My Cancer Year (2015). At Self magazine in New York City, he helped develop the internationally recognized pink ribbon breast cancer awareness campaign in the 1990s. He lives with his family in Boulder, Colorado.
Sophia Balzora, MD
“The journey to health equity in colorectal cancer screening and incidence is a long-view goal we should all share to better our communities.”
Sophie M. Balzora MD, FACG, is a Clinical Associate Professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.Dr. Balzorahas focused her academic efforts on improving physician engagement and enhancing the patient experience through objective structured clinical exams, or OSCEs. As Chair of ACG’s Public Relations Committee, Dr. Balzora’s primary goal is to disseminate the College’s message of the importance of colorectal cancer awareness to the general public, and arm its members with tools to do the same. She is also a member of ACG’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and co-founder of ACG’s #DiversityinGI Social Media Campaign. Dr. Balzora also serves on the Patient Education Sub-Committee of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF)’s National Scientific Advisory Committee, and the social media team of the CCF’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Journal.
Rachel Issaka, MD, MAS
“Equity in health outcomes, including colorectal cancer, cannot wait!”
Dr. Rachel Issaka is a Gastroenterologist and Assistant Professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington with expertise in colorectal cancer prevention, quality improvement, and health equity. Dr. Issaka has contributed to national gastroenterology guidelines as a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) colorectal cancer guideline committee, the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) workgroup on mailed fecal immunochemical test (FIT) outreach. Dr. Issaka has also informed health policy through work on the Washington State Bree Collaborative colorectal cancer screening workgroup and the California Public Hospital Redesign and Incentives in Medi-Cal (PRIME), a pay-for-performance program used to improve California’s health outcomes. Dr. Issaka’s research focuses on decreasing colorectal cancer mortality through increased screening in medically underserved populations. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Dr. Issaka holds other leadership positions including serving as a member of the Fred Hutchinson Faculty Diversity Committee, the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Diversity Committee and the Gastroenterology Intersociety Group on Diversity. Dr. Issaka’s 2020 JAMA essay, “Good for Us All”, summarizes some of her recommendations to achieve health equity and has contributed to the national conversation on the role of medical professionals in dismantling systemic racism. Dr. Issaka completed her gastroenterology fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco where she also earned a Masters in Advanced Studies in Clinical Research. She completed her internal medicine residency at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where she served as chief resident and obtained her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School.
Darrell Gray, MD, MPH
Darrell M. Gray, II, MD, MPH, FACG is a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center and deputy director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity at OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is a key opinion leader in addressing barriers to colorectal cancer screening and serves on the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT) Strategic Planning Advisory Group and the FightCRC Medical Advisory Board.Dr. Gray has been recognized for his work with the 80% by 2018 National Achievement Award by the NCCRT, multiple American College of Gastroenterology awards and with induction as a National Minority Quality Forum 40 Under 40 Leader in Minority Health. Yet, Dr. Gray is most proud of his roles as husband to wife Brittney and father to childrenHarper, Ella and Noah.
Carmen Fong, MD
“Access to colon cancer screening is one of the most important things we can talk about right now, especially getting patients less than 45 years old the screening that they need. We can’t just say it’s not a problem and not deal with it — the point of prevention is that we have to confront these issues before they become an even bigger problem.”
Dr. Carmen Fong earned a Doctor of Medicine from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, where she was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society. She completed a general surgery residency at Mount Sinai Beth Israel and then a fellowship in colon and rectal surgery at Stony Brook University Hospital/NYU Winthrop. Dr. Fong won many awards during her training, including the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Scholarly Achievement Award and the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Chief Resident Award, both in June 2018. She is a current member of the Society of Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, where she sits on the Ethics Committee and the Health Advocacy Committee. She has been the lead or co-author on multiple publications and has presented her work at multiple national and international conferences, including the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. Dr. Fong is also actively engaged in many education, leadership, and volunteer roles in the medical field and beyond.
Her research interests include colorectal cancer in young people, access to health care and screening, and new technological advances in colorectal surgery.
Candace is a tireless advocate for colon cancer prevention and support. Candace was a single mother who was raising five children when she lost her car and home while battling colon cancer. Her own battle and the devastation it left on her life and that of her children inspired her to create The Blue Hat Foundation. The organization is founded on unconditional support and compassion for people fighting colon cancer. Their mission is to provide education, information, and free screenings for colon cancer in minority and medically underserved communities. The Blue Hat Foundation started as a single event “Blue Hat Bow Tie Sunday” at one church in Chicago. The program is now in 15 churches and promotes “education through participation,” by asking the congregation to wear blue in honor of someone who is fighting or passed away from colon cancer. In addition to the Sunday events, The Blue Hat Foundation raises awareness about the disease’s signs, as well as shares stories of personal experience through speeches, podcasts, articles, and community partnerships.