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Colon Cancer Awareness Month: How It Got Started

Posted on November 21, 2013

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It was early 1999 when colon cancer started making waves across the country. Jay Monahan, NBC News legal analyst and husband of the beloved Katie Couric, had recently lost his battle with the disease and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable was just getting off the ground. Colon cancer, the “silent killer” that was seldom talked about during these years, was finally finding a place on the map.

Although colon cancer is highly preventable through screening and treatable when caught early, it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women combined in the U.S. But at this point in the late 90s, awareness was low and less than 50% of people were following screening guidelines. I was appalled that more wasn’t being done to raise awareness and increase screening rates, so in my role as the Director of External Affairs at the Prevent Cancer Foundation, I set out to make a change.

Stephanie Guiffre, Colon Cancer Alliance Strategic Alliance and Initiatives Director and one of the founders of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Stephanie Guiffre, Colon Cancer Alliance Strategic Alliance and Initiatives Director and one of the founders of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Having been a member of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month collaboration, I knew what was achievable and that we could use this model to make strides in colon cancer. As I did more digging, I realized that although there was a month for practically everything under the sun, there was no month designated for colon cancer. How could this be?! Once I realized this, I focused like a laser beam on making National Colon Cancer Awareness Month a reality. And so it began.

With the support of my team at Prevent Cancer, I developed a plan for how we were going to get colon cancer into people’s ears, worked my butt off to secure funding and then we took our efforts to the streets, introducing our ideas to organizations who shared in our goal of knocking out colon cancer. We built a coalition of 50 collaborating partners, one of which was the Colon Cancer Alliance.

The massive collaboration moved Congress to designate March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month in 2000, along with then President Bill Clinton, who signed a White House Proclamation officially designating the month. And although we were ecstatic, we didn’t stop there. We kept the momentum going through a national media campaign, continuing to surge awareness and action throughout the country.

That year on March 1st, I stood on Capitol Hill with the patients, survivors, advocates and lawmakers who came together to make this happen and I felt sheer pride. It was inspiring to know something that began as a simple idea had grown into such an impactful campaign that was truly moving the dial forward to save lives. Even more invigorating? Watching the initiative continue to grow and thrive over these 14 years, now making an ever bigger difference. 

While we’ve made great strides in increasing screening rates and educating the public that colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable, more work still needs to be done. The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable has set a goal of 80% screening rates by 2018. In order to accomplish this, we need to ensure colon cancer screening and awareness remain a national public health priority with policy makers on the local, state and national levels. To support this endeavor, the Colon Cancer Alliance and Fight Colorectal Cancer have joined forces to turn all 50 states blue with state proclamations recognizing March 2014 as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

But we need your help! Together, we can turn the entire country blue for March this year. Join the movement today!

Stephanie Guiffre is currently the Strategic Alliance and Initiatives Director at the Colon Cancer Alliance. She is a seasoned professional with 20 years of health promotion and health education experience combined with corporate marketing and public relations expertise. For the past 15 years, she has devoted much of her work to colon cancer prevention, screening and treatment initiatives.  Her success in the National Colon Cancer Awareness Month campaign earned her a Silver Anvil Award from the National Association of Business Communicators. She looks forward to continuing the fight in her new role at the Colon Cancer Alliance.

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