Not that we planned it that way.
I had been looking for a good reason to contact an old mentor I hadn’t spoken to in nearly 20 years, and this month’s Reader’s Digest had an article that gave me a perfect opportunity. So this morning I sent this in to the magazine (Jacqueline Leo is the Editor-in-Chief):
I hope this note makes it to Ms. Leo’s desk. In 1988, when my maiden name was Judi Weiler and I was a sophomore graphic design student at the Savannah College of Art & Design, I had the honor and pleasure of spending the summer working as an intern in the Family Circle Magazine art department. Jackie Leo was the Editor-in-Chief at the time. Every few weeks, she would invite the magazine’s handful of interns to her office for an informal lunch. We would talk about what we thought of the magazine, our careers and current events. She put us at ease, and was a role model for me. I dont know if Jackie remembers me, but I so admired her and I will never forget those lunches and the impact she had on my life.
Lynn Sherrs article in the October 2006 issue, Gut Feeling, was inspiring to read. One rarely reads a cancer story in October that is about anything but breast cancer. In 1998, while Ms. Sherr was on her way to winning her battle against colon cancer, my father was losing his. I was seven months pregnant with my second child when my father was diagnosed with Stage IV disease at the age of 55. He didnt have symptoms until the cancer had already spread to his liver. Lynn Sherr was fortunate that her cancer was caught so early, when the patient has better than a 90% chance for a cure. Unfortunately, with the limited treatment options available in 1998 for metastatic disease, my fathers prognosis was grim and he died just nine months after diagnosis. I am thankful that there are people like Lynn Sherr who are using their celebrity to raise awareness of colon cancer without embarrassment.
Despite incredible advances in colorectal cancer research and treatment options in the past eight years, 55,000 Americans are still dying of the disease, keeping it the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States behind lung cancer. Since my fathers death, I have joined with others and have devoted much of my life to making a difference in the fight against colorectal cancer. Our organization, C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition pushes for research to improve screening, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer, for policy decisions that make the most effective colon and rectal cancer treatment available for all, and we push for the general public to be aware that colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable.
We are working to build a grassroots army of survivors, caregivers, healthcare providers and anyone who has been affected by colorectal cancer and wants the dying to stop. Effective, organized advocacy does make a difference. We urge people to join us at www.fightcolorectalcancer.org.
And then this article made the front of the Washington Post today.
In his final days, as he underwent grueling chemotherapy, Smith said he was fighting for Asha — “I’ve got to see the man she marries,” he cried. But in the end, he was no match for colorectal cancer — or his own failure to seek medical treatment.
Smith, 54, like many other black men, died before his time. Black men have a life expectancy of 69 years, six years less than white men and far shorter than men of other ethnic group. They are more than twice as likely to die from cancer as white men, according to the National Cancer Institute, and nine times as likely as white men to die of AIDS. They suffer from lung disease, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and other chronic illnesses in disproportionate numbers that alarm health-care professionals.
“From cradle to grave, African Americans have the worst statistics in almost every area of health,” said Khan Nedd, founder of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute in Michigan.
Later in the article:
By the beginning of 2005, Damu Smith’s stomach was tied in knots. When he used the bathroom, he would bleed. He lost his appetite, shed pounds, noticed a reddish tint in his stool.
“I need to see a doctor,” he said to himself in February. “Something’s wrong.”
He scheduled a colonoscopy at Providence Hospital. It cost $760, cash he didn’t have.
Is the issue here that he was a black man who didn’t take care of himself, or was it the fact that he didn’t have access to affordable screening and he wasn’t adequately educated about colon cancer (and the fact that he was at increased risk simply because he was African-American)? We debated this article around the office. One of our folks accurately described it as a “perfect storm”:
A perfect storm of things going wrong: no information about possible inherited link from his fathers cancer, the idea that good diet will prevent cancer, stress and lack of time, no information about the symptoms of colorectal cancer, no information or resource for preventive screening, no money for a diagnostic colonoscopy, higher risk for colorectal cancer incidence and death in African-Americans occurring at an earlier age, fear of cancer. Most of all, to my mind, is a lack of consistent, affordable medical insurance.
So in the end, this letter was sent in to the Editor of the Washington Post. Hopefully they’ll publish it.
To the Editor:
Although it was dismaying to read how Damu Smith a true advocate for so many neglected the signs his own body was giving him, C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition (www.FightColorectalCancer.org) applauds him for allowing your reporter into his life during his last few weeks to help spread the message about colorectal cancer.
The painful truth for Mr. Smiths family is one that provides hope to the 149,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year: colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable. What is needed, however, is increased public awareness of the risks and a government willing to guarantee easy, affordable access to colon screenings.
Colorectal cancer is truly a silent killer primarily because many symptoms do not present until the cancer is at its later stages but it is also silent because people are hesitant to discuss it. We urge your readers of all ethnic groups and both sexes to understand their risks for colon and rectal cancer and to fight for affordable and accessible health care coverage that puts an emphasis on prevention and early detection of beatable diseases like colorectal cancer.
C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition