Meet the Research Advocates Lovingly referred to as our “RATS,” these dedicated advocates complete our rigorous Research Advocacy Training and Support program and participate in research advocacy on a regular basis. Learn More About the RATS Program Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter Copy this URL Share via Email Jennifer Ratner Research Advocate Jennifer Ratner Research Advocate Mary Curtin Creaser Research Advocate Mary Curtin Creaser Research Advocate Frank Salvi Research Advocate Frank Salvi Research Advocate Joe Mahaffey Research Advocate Joe Mahaffey Research Advocate Joann Simms Research Advocate Joann Simms Research Advocate Kellie Hoffman Research Advocate Kellie Hoffman Research Advocate Kimberley Bush-Klinefelter Research Advocate Kimberley Bush-Klinefelter Research Advocate "My husband, Terry, was diagnosed when my son, Aidan was 11 months old, and my other son, Aaron was nine years old. It was quite a challenging time as a caregiver, working full time, and being a mom. Unfortunately, Terry passed away 3 years later. Now I'm the caregiver to my 97-year-old mother, who was diagnosed with CRC at the age of 93. You are never too old to have a colonoscopy! She is currently doing well. "After my mom's surgery, I was searching for a way to give back and help those within the colorectal cancer community. I found the Fight CRC Ambassador program through a Google search. While at Call-on Congress, Andi Dwyer suggested the Research Training Advocacy and Support (RATS) program to me. "The most impactful thing I've done so far as a research advocate was sitting on the Peer-Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP) review panel. There were some amazing research applications submitted and I greatly enjoyed doing my small part to hopefully get some of these research projects funded. "Research is necessary to triumph over the wily cancer beast so that no one will ever have to grow up without a parent due to this horrible disease." Anita Mitchell Isler Research Advocate Anita Mitchell Isler Research Advocate Anita had just turned 41 when she diagnosed with IV Colon Cancer in 2005. Her primary care dr had dismissed her symptoms 4 months earlier. It was not until the symptoms progressed and Anita found out her that her Dad who had passed from cancer at 46 had Colon Cancer, was she referred for a scope. Anita was busy rasing three kids ages 9, 12, 13, at diagnosis. After finding out how preventable CRC is with on time screening she was determined to bring awareness about early-onset CRC and family history and started Dress in Blue Day at her children's school. She founded Washington Colon Cancer Stars with her state Colon Cancer Task force. She leads two long running support groups for CRC patients and helps local researchers connect with patients for focus groups. Her goal is to see this disease get the funding and awareness to change the landscape so no one has to die. Top accomplishments Testifying for bill 1337 that passed to mandiate insurance companies in Washington State to cover colonoscopies.Serves on Grand Challenge Team Opptumisticc as a patient advocate a international 25 million dollar project funded by Cancer Research UK and National Cancer .Served on a Patient Centered Pathology grant and co authoring published papers. Elizabeth Dennis Research Advocate Elizabeth Dennis Research Advocate Wendy Lewis Research Advocate Wendy Lewis Research Advocate Diagnosed at age 42, Wendy is a stage III rectal cancer survivor who inherited more than dark hair and fair skin from her late father....she also inherited a diagnosis of Lynch Syndrome. Fight CRC is an organization with a goal of change and inclusion that has made a difference. In my own community, Fight CRC has taught me about prevention and barriers to screening. As a Research Advocate, the value of physicians you may not see is immense. The simple tour of a lab will open your eyes to the massive amount of work going on behind the scenes. With fellow advocates, a trip was made to the Promega lab in Madison, WI. We had the opportunity to participate in lab activities with scientists and learn about immunotherapy and hereditary cancer risk and bioluminescence. Karen Wehling Research Advocate Karen Wehling Research Advocate Karen Wehling has been a Research Advocate with Fight CRC for five years. She is also a patient advocate and nine year survivor of stage IV colorectal cancer (CRC). Using skills from her research advocacy training, she has been involved in the Early-Age Onset Colorectal Cancer Workgroups, a main focus of her colorectal cancer advocacy. She also uses her research advocacy skills as a curator of the Fight CRC Trial Finder. In addition, she is a member of the Colorado Colorectal Cancer Task Force, part of the Colorado Cancer Coalition. This group works to raise awareness as well as assists the underserved in Colorado with CRC screenings, and is currently working with the legislature to lower the age for CRC screenings to 45 in Colorado. Karen is involved directly with the evaluation of clinical trials as a member of COMIRB, the Colorado IRB, which is a committee that reviews proposed research studies for their ethical treatment in clinical trials with human subjects. She does all of this in the hope that her children and grandchildren will live in a world where CRC is no longer the second-leading cause of cancer death. Gina Benedetti Research Advocate Gina Benedetti Research Advocate In September, I will be five years out from completing chemotherapy from stage IIIc colorectal cancer. I was diagnosed at 37, shortly after my son was born. I have a passion to advocate and educate on the risk factors for colorectal cancer, and to be a voice for all of the people affected by CRC. I am a first grade teacher at a year-round school in Sonoma County, California. I am married with a five-year-old son, Charlie, who just started kindergarten. To gain a deeper understanding in the research of CRC, and help guide advancements in research using my own journey and experience with colorectal cancer. My greatest achievement as a Research Advocate so far is speaking at Call on Congress about my experience as a first time attendee. Paige Niewerth Research Advocate Paige Niewerth Research Advocate Born and raised in Dallas, TX, Paige grew up cheering and playing golf. She graduated from the University of Alabama where she was a Phi Mu in 2011. Currently residing in Charleston, SC, Paige is in the recruiting and human resources industry. Paige enjoys yoga, tennis, golf, traveling, and going to the beach! Paige lost her father to CRC in April 2018 and wanted to get involved to help bring awareness and find a cure. Goals as a Research Advocate Get involved in local groups/programs/volunteerism Bring more awareness of early-onset CRC in the younger population Educate and inform my network on symptoms, eating habits, etc Lera Chitwood Research Advocate, Retired Lera Chitwood Research Advocate, Retired I lost my only child to colon cancer in 2014. He had just turned 35 and was at the peak of a well-earned life: a professor at Boston College--just where he had hoped to go with his family---his wife, daughter, and baby on the way. He should have lived. I could only try to make up for his life by fighting this awful disease that was killing so many of our young adults. With screening not recommended until 50, way too many young people only discover they have colorectal cancer at stage IV; usually when it is too late. This motivated me to join Fight Colorectal Cancer in 2015 and become a Research Advocate. It took a while to find my niche, but then I became a curator of clinical trials for the Fight CRC Late-Stage MSS CRC Trial Finder. We have to fight for earlier screening and more effective treatment of colorectal cancer. Lara Lambert Research Advocate Lara Lambert Research Advocate I am a physician trained in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary, and Critical Care, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina and works at the local Veteran’s Hospital. I am married to my husband Carson, and we have two bloodhounds together: Samwell Tarly and Gilly Tarly (shout out to Game of Thrones). My daughter recently graduated from VCU and got her Masters of Social Work, and I also have two step-daughters, one in middle school and one who just graduated high school. I was diagnosed with stage IIIc rectal cancer in May 2019 and underwent treatment including radiation, two surgeries, and six months of IV chemotherapy. Despite being a physician, I was not aware that CRC was on the rise in young adults and I feel called to make this common knowledge among the general population and practicing physicians. I believe my experience as a patient and physician provides me a unique opportunity as a Research Advocate. Goals as a Research Advocate Attend one community event per year to discuss prevention/screening of CRCBecome active at my community hospital, MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) in patient support and in our local young adult cancer group. Serve on an IRB committee Attend ASCO Kimberly Schoolcraft Research Advocate Kimberly Schoolcraft Research Advocate I lost my very healthy and very active partner, Andy, to colon cancer. He was diagnosed at 47 years old at stage IV. After spending as much time together as possible for the next three and a half years, we ran out of treatment options, and our future, after 28 years together, painfully became my future. I will always fight for Andy and I have taken on many advocacy roles in his honor. I’m thankful for the many advocacy opportunities available to me and I am proud to be a member of the Fight CRC RATS team, to be a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Council at our local hospital, and to have had the opportunity to work with a local organization to set up Andy’s Kayak Rentals in his memory. I often reflect on a quote that I once saw which says that we should take the very best of those we’ve lost and bring it out into the world in their honor. In advocacy, this is possible. Role in Research Advocacy Call-on-Congress – Telling our story to members of Congress in a way that can impact legislation and funding decisions.Andy’s Kayak Rentals – This takes the active, outdoor loving, traits of Andy and combines them with spreading awareness of colorectal cancer into the local community and provides donations to Fight CRC.Young Investigator Workshop – As advocate attendees, we were able to sit with young investigators and tell them our stories. They actively engaged with us and were eager to understand how their work could make an impact in the lives of real patients. Kim Houston Research Advocate Kim Houston Research Advocate Kim Houston has 23 years of service with Marriott International. Currently she is a Program Manager with the Operations Support Resources Team, located at the company’s headquarters in Bethesda, MD. In her role, she is responsible for training associates and managers on how best to navigate and use a computer program that is proprietary to Marriott International. Additionally, she collaborates with hotel franchisee stakeholders and leaders as their main point of contact for subject matter and technical expertise with maintaining data integrity. Kim is a 2017-2018 Fight Colorectal Cancer Ambassador, 2018-2020 Fight CRC Ambassador Mentor, and Fight CRC Research Advocacy Team (RATS) member. Diagnosed in 2013 at the age of 45 with stage IIIc colon cancer, Kim found her way to Fight Colorectal Cancer, allowing her a platform to advocate and spread awareness about this preventable disease. Kim is celebrating seven years cancer free! Kim currently resides in the Salt Lake City, UT area with her husband. Kim and her husband have two young-adult children; known lovingly as the “boy kid” and the “girl kid.” Newly settled in Salt Lake City, Kim is actively searching for colon cancer awareness volunteer opportunities. Her Goals as a Research Advocate Confidently answer questions to improve patient care, quality of life, and cancer survivorship through researchUse my voice to continue to lobby Congress for advancement of the policies and processes involved in cancer research that will make cures possibleEducate fellow CRC community members on why clinical trials are important, where they can access clinical trials, and how they can maintain a good quality of life Julie Krause Research Advocate Julie Krause Research Advocate I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer in 2010. I have had a number of surgeries, chemo, RFA, SBRT, and most recently, VATS. I believe that currently I am NED, although I’ve learned that doesn’t mean much. My day job is an IT Director and I have worked through my entire cancer treatments. I have a daughter with Down’s Syndrome, so I'm very involved in the special needs in my community. By far my most rewarding job, although I don’t think of it as a job, is a colon cancer patient and research advocate. I started as a Research Advocate with Fight CRC in September 2016. Since then I have learned so much about CRC and I hope that I can take what I’ve learned to support my fellow patients and myself. I’ve been given many rewarding opportunities to make a difference in the patient experience in clinical trials. I currently work with the Alliance for Clinical Trials on the GI Steering, Symptom Intervention, Immunoncology, Patient Advocate, Plain Language Summary, and Patient Education Portal Committees; the Department of Defense on grant applications; the NCI for trials that are not accruing quick enough; ASCO on YIA grant applications; and as a Fight CRC Clinical Trial Curator. It is an exciting time in cancer research and understanding and I’m hopeful we can see a cure for CRC in my lifetime. Julie Barreau Research Advocate Julie Barreau Research Advocate I am a three-time cancer survivor. Stage III Colon Cancer and Stage III Duodenum Cancer. I have worked in higher education for twenty-four years. I am honored to be a Research Advocate. Goals as a Research Advocate To give backTo be part of a communityEnhance my knowledge of cancer and treatments Wenora Johnson Research Advocate Wenora Johnson Research Advocate I’m a 3x cancer survivor with Lynch Syndrome who never wanted cancer, but having it made me realize just how important my voice can be as an advocate! As a RATS Advocate and Clinical Trials Curator for Fight CRC and volunteer for other organizations such as PCORI, FORCE, and NCCS, I’ve had an opportunity to understand how policy, research, and clinical trials have a powerful impact in my community, especially when it comes to healthcare disparities. "I've been a grant reviewer for DoD, the V Foundation and ASCO.I also serve as a Patient Advocate on various panels and boards that include Centers for Medicaid & Medicare, Flatiron Health, Blue Note Therapeutics, iBeat CRC, National Quality Forum, NRG Oncology, PCORI Clinical Trials and as an IRB member for my local community hospital." As a committed Research Advocate, I plan to continue my training with cancer research, genetics, and clinical trials to be a successful addition to healthcare organizations in need of hearing the patients’ voice. I plan to collaborate, disseminate, and promote activities of programs that highlight areas of cross-collaboration, diversity, and equity. Her Role in Research Advocacy As a Research Advocate, my top three advocacy achievements are: Attending policy change events on Capitol Hill that actually inspired real change that included new recommended guidelines to lower colorectal screening age from 50 to 45. Creating my first Abstract Poster entitled “Understanding financial toxicities and disparities associated with treatment of Colorectal Cancer in the minority community” presented at the AACR Scientist Survivor Program on healthcare disparities. The Scientist Survivor Program is designed to build enduring partnerships among the leaders of the scientific, cancer survivor, and patient advocacy. Being selected as a Consumer Reviewer with the Department of Defense CDMRP Program. Serving as a Peer and Programmatic review panel member with full voting rights on cancer research projects that are relevant and has the potential to make a significant impact on the community affected. Features as a Research Advocate Wenora's story was featured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can view the video below! Heidi Jurgens Research Advocate Heidi Jurgens Research Advocate I come from a strong family history of early-onset colon cancer including multiple first and second degree relatives diagnosed in their 30s. We’d later come to learn we have Lynch Syndrome. I was diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome in my mid-20s and have successfully managed it for over a decade. Access to genetic testing, screenings, and high-quality healthcare has so far kept me cancer-free. I joined Fight CRC to be a voice for patients that might not have the access or information they need to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer. Professionally, I’ve always been interested in science and medicine. I completed a PhD in Neuroscience with a focus on Immunology and spent several years doing biomedical research. I currently work at Northwestern University in Foundation Relations where I support faculty in obtaining grant funding in the life, physical, and biomedical sciences. My goals are to increase awareness of the importance of cancer research, ensure the patients’ perspective is considered (in particular quality of life issues), and communicate the latest research findings into actionable information all patients can use. Danielle Murray Research Advocate Danielle Murray Research Advocate I was born and raised on Long Island, New York where I presently reside. I am an attorney, specializing in the areas of matrimonial and family law. I lost my mother to stage IV colorectal cancer in 2007. She was diagnosed when she was 49 and passed away less than two years later, when I was 21 years of age. Goals as a Research Advocate 1. Raise awareness of early-onset colorectal cancer, not only virtually but in my community 2. Become involved at local hospitals/cancer treatment centers to raise testing awareness and effect change in any way that I can, by providing support to caregivers 3. Participate in research from the perspective of a caregiver who has witnessed and dealt with the consequences of extremely poor pain and quality of life management Ben White Research Advocate Ben White Research Advocate Ben's diagnosis of stage III colon cancer at age 26 cut his career as a Naval Aviator short. Though he's no longer flying helicopters for the Navy, he is now in the next chapter of his life and is currently celebrating three years cancer free. Ben has spent the last few years volunteering in both legislative and research cancer advocacy programs with Fight CRC, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy in the hopes to be able to professionally contribute in the cancer advocacy space in the future. Goals as a Research Advocate 1. Sit as the patient reviewer on an early-onset CRC research panel 2. Join a CRC advisory board as the patient advocate 3. Sit on another DOD PRCRP board Annie Delores Research Advocate Annie Delores Research Advocate For the last four and a half years, Ann has become an experienced patient advocate, especially in the areas of clinical trial assistance for colorectal cancer patients (including knowledge of relevant biomarkers such as MSI, BRAF, NRAS and KRAS). Ann shares information on (almost) a daily basis with a number of online colorectal cancer groups – from small specific biomarker driven groups (BRAF CRC, KRAS mutated NRAS group) to very large online communities e.g. Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer Facebook group with 4,668 members and the Immunotherapy Support group with 3660 patient/family members. Goals as a Research Advocate To have a science-based support/research group for immunotherapy patients (e.g MSI patients or lung patients with good biomarkers. This would have great resources (e.g. from SITC, Cancer Research Institute) but also updates on clinical trials that are working on improvements to immunotherapy trials e.g. moving promising treatments into first line. Getting approval of checkpoint inhibitors is just the beginning of this era in immunotherapy. But many give up on immunotherapy if a checkpoint inhibitor stops working.To help patients find out ways that use of liquid biopsies can give them more options and time – e.g. to rechallenge a targeted treatment, to monitor biomarkers of response to immunotherapy OR non-response to a treatment like TAS-102 or Regorafenib.To be a trusted voice for important news that could be impactful and helpful for patients. Anna Rappaport Research Advocate Anna Rappaport Research Advocate Allison Rosen Research Advocate Allison Rosen Research Advocate Allison Rosen is a Houston, Texas native and colorectal cancer survivor. She dedicates her life to use her voice and platform to educate, advocate, and continuously learn how best to represent the collective colorectal cancer community. Allison is Director of Project ECHO at the American Cancer Society, focusing on colorectal cancer prevention. She has a combined 15 years of experience in the oncology space, focusing on designing, implementing, and evaluating public health programs and initiatives to address cancer awareness and disparities among the medically underserved. She serves as a patient advocate working with Fight Colorectal Cancer, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the Colon Cancer Coalition, and SWOG Cancer Research Network and volunteers at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Through her own experience at beating stage II colorectal cancer, she works to bridge the gap between the healthcare system and the communities that it serves. Allison loves to travel, nature, music, dancing, and will never say "no" to an adventure. My top three goals as a research advocate are simple: educate, advocate, and collaborate in an effort to spread awareness about colorectal cancer and save lives! Lee Jones Research Advocate Lee Jones Research Advocate Lee was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in March 2004 and after undergoing 18 rounds of chemotherapy and a liver resection in July 2006 has been cancer free. Lee has a BA in Psychology and an MBA in Finance and had a successful executive career in government, banking, consulting, and not-for-profit organizations. To help others survive and thrive after a cancer diagnosis, Lee became active with Fight Colorectal Cancer as a research advocate, and became a member of the Georgetown Oncology Institutional Review Board (IRB). He is a research advocate member of the SWOG Survivorship Committee and past patient member of the PCORI Clinical Trials Advisory Panel (CTAP); is on the Boards of the Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia (CACV), the Ruesch Center (Georgetown University), and the Cancer Policy and Advocacy Team (CPAT) of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship; has been a peer research proposal reviewer for ASCO, PCORI and the DOD; and is a member of ASCO, the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, and the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM). Lee has collaborated on several projects sponsored by The Friends of Cancer Research, including defining tolerability, reporting adverse events and tightening exclusion criteria, and has been a speaker at Ruesch Center, AAADV, CPAT, FDA and NCCN conferences. Lee has been appointed as a patient representative on the NCI’s Early Phase Emphasis Central IRB starting in January 2021, and is an advocate member of a multi-national team studying the relationship of the human microbiome and colorectal cancer. As a cancer patient and survivor, Lee is committed to promoting the patient voice in cancer research, treatments, medical care, and the health care system in general. His Role in Research Advocacy Advocate member of international team studying the relationship between the human microbiome and CRCCompetitive selection to serve on the NCI Central IRB for early phase clinical trialsServes as a research advocate with the SWOG Cancer Research Network and helped to launch a trial to improve quality of life for rectal cancer survivors Yasmeem Watson Research Advocate Yasmeem Watson Research Advocate Elaine Newcomb Research Advocate Elaine Newcomb Research Advocate Eleven years ago, I was suddenly diagnosed with colorectal cancer with mets to the liver and given only months to live. Liver surgery was not possible in a small rural hospital, so we took off to find treatment and landed with Pittsburgh Medical Center, Liver Cancer Unit. I had to do two months of chemo prescribed by Pittsburgh and then came surgery. Because I found the right place at the right time, I am living today as an advocate for early diagnosis and regular colonoscopies. I have been part of Fight Colorectal Cancer since 2011. I have served in several capacities as a Legislative Advocate, pushing for increased funding of colorectal cancer research, changes for Medicare to make screening and treatment more accessible, and encouraging colonoscopies for those under 45 years old. Several years ago, I was invited to participate in a new program, Research Advocacy Training and Support, known as RATS. I have attended many training sessions and symposia for this program and have learned a lot, which I share after every meeting I attend. Recently, I was given the opportunity to become a curator of colorectal cancer trials, sifting out those that would somehow benefit colorectal cancer patients. This has been extremely rewarding and I hope to continue. As a Research Advocate, there are things that stand out for which are encouraging. First, the patients that have called me for information in a tough situation and those that call to tell me they are NED. These are friends I will always cherish. A year ago, I encouraged our hospital to continue with a telehealth program for oncology. It was a tough sell, but we made it and it made such a difference in our cancer patients. They can now use our infusion center rather than drive hundreds of miles for treatment. My age causes me to be concerned about treatment for geriatric patients. I am studying a lot of research coming out that I may be able to help with in some way. Curt Pesmen Research Advocate Curt Pesmen Research Advocate Curt Pesmen is an author, advocate, documentary producer and Cofounder of BoCo Media, LLC. He serves as Research Advocate for Fight Colorectal Cancer, Springfield, MO, 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 How A Man Ages, The Colon Cancer Survivors' 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. His Role in Research Advocacy Serves as a Research Advocate for CPRIT, the $3B funded Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas on a twice-yearly basis. Being selected and reviewing 65-70 grant applications for new cancer drugs of all types for all cancersAttended the ASCO GI meeting in January 2018 and brokered a meeting between seven research advocates and Alan Venook, M.D., (my ex-medical onc!) an ASCO speaker + director of UCSF GI-Oncology. He shared the key differences between "left-sided" CRC diagnoses and "right-sided" CRCs and how his lab was instrumental in reporting the finding that these CRCs should be treated differentlySpoke at Call-on Congress 2015 in Washington, D.C. as a new Research Advocate, which allowed me to share research from my book, My Cancer Year, including the legendary advice of an onc-surgeon: "Cancer is a WORD, not a SENTENCE!"