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Tacoma Undy 5000: A Star is Born

Posted on August 12, 2013

For the past five years, Michelle Meeker has been cancer-free. To celebrate this salient milestone, Michelle participated in the recent Tacoma Undy 5000 5K like she never had before — as the signature Colon Cancer Alliance Hope star. While Michelle had participated in the Undy as a runner and speaker in the past, this year she brought happiness and inspiration to Undy participants as our ever-smiling mascot. At the end of the event, teams and individuals gathered for an emotional ceremony as Michelle emerged from the costume to share her story. More on Michelle, from Michelle:

Diagnosis & Treatment  

In May 2008, my family and I were preparing for my sister’s wedding.  The week prior to the wedding, I had a colonoscopy scheduled due to some nagging issues.  I figured it would be a comma in our current life pace to do the test, and then back to usual.  It turned out to be a semicolon pause, pardon the pun.  During my colonoscopy, we discovered the reason for my issues was a 4-5 mm tumor embedded in my sigmoid colon. I must say, if you are going to hear the words, “You have cancer,” the best way is right after a colonoscopy when the Fentanyl is at its peak.  They should, however, also give a dose to your designated driver, since they are the first to truly absorb the news. 

From that point, we were no longer just in wedding mode, but had CT scans, MRIs and surgeon visits thrown in as the mix. I was scheduled for a bowel resection three weeks later and discovered it was a stage I tumor, so no chemo or radiation was necessary.  Four days in the oncology ward, where it was apparent I was the only patient walking out of there was more than enough of a wake-up call.  

After the Tacoma Undy 5000 5K, Michelle emerged from the Hope star to share her story.

After the Tacoma Undy 5000 5K, Michelle emerged from the Hope star to share her story.

Taking Action

Since my story turned out to be so easy and uncomplicated (mostly because I had symptoms), I dealt with some survivor guilt and felt the need to give back.  I researched cancer organizations looking for three things:  

1) High amount of funds going directly to cancer research, patients and early detection education

2) Fun, family-oriented events to raise awareness and funds nationwide  

3) Ways to support the organization, other than financially 

Then I saw it.

WHAT?! The CCA has a traveling 5K where individuals and teams can run in undies, walk through an inflatable colon AND the mascot is a Hope star?  Sign me up!  

 My Undy Experience

At our first Undy 5000 in 2009, we were a little reserved. But after that, I was hooked. I knew my family and I were going to have to kick up our involvement.

At a later Undy, my 17 year-old son, a drama student, volunteered to be the Hope star.  I decided to volunteer to be a survivor speaker, and I even placed first in 2010 and second in 2011 in the fastest female survivor running time category. Our team name is the Smiling Semi-Colons because my surgical removed 12″ of my colon, leaving me with a, well, semi-colon, and we continue to smile about the overall outcome of 5 years of being a survivor.

For the 2013 Tacoma Undy 5000, the event coincided with my five year cured status.  I volunteered to wear the Hope star costume to celebrate.  For the first time in Undy history, I unmasked and spoke about the feeling of being in my fifth year of survival.  The great thing about being the Hope star is the photo bomb opportunities, high-fiving kids and never taking a bad photo. I must say, I loved the bright orange oversized hi-top tennis shoes and cracked one lady up in the rest room when she saw those in the next stall.

 Importance of Early Detection

Colon cancer doesn’t care about your age, your life agenda, your kids or your family; it strikes silently, often without obvious symptoms. Pay attention to your normal elimination habits, and if anything changes, get checked immediately.

In my third survival year, I had a call from an old friend who was preparing for her first colonoscopy, and she was anxious because she had been having issues for SIX YEARS!  Her outcome was stage IV that had metastasized to her lungs and liver; she passed 5 months later. She knew my story and, out of fear and inconvenience, did not get a colonoscopy.  How inconvenient is losing your life versus spending a few hours in a process you sleep through anyway?  Be proactive — early detection makes all the difference.

5 Responses to “Tacoma Undy 5000: A Star is Born”

  1. Janell Richison says:

    Loved your story! I too was diagnosed with Stage 1 Colon Cancer, and it was also genetic, to my surprise. I also found out in the hospital after falling down my basement stairs. I had sustained a pinched nerve, and was not aware of it, and I had taken pain pills to deal with the pain, only for the stomach pain to get worse. I had an MRI scheduled, went to it, and in less than 3 days I was in the emergency room. As I was having an emergency Endoscopy and Colonoscopy to rule out anything that was causing the stomach pain, sustained from taking meds w/o food, the Colon Cancer was found on the right side of my colon, which is the silent side-I never had any pain, nothing. Ten days after entering the hospital, I was handed a sheet of paper by the Oncologist, who sat down in a chair in front of me, as I was about to be discharged, happy as a flea, as the color in my face felt like it just drained out. I couldn’t even get upset, cry, or grasp what I was hearing. All I could say, to myself, was this is not something to get excited about. Go home and do your research, and then take it from there. The Oncologist seemed more like a surreal dark cloud each time he entered my room, and being the bearer of bad news didn’t help his image much. But, I did do my research; I did meet with him, and he stated that the chemo was not required but it would help me live longer, and all I kept thinking about was if there are no cancer cells to kill, what will they be killing, it has to be healthy cells; my husband and I were convinced to do the chemo, and a port a cath was scheduled;3 days prior to the port a cath appointment I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon. He asked me how I was doing? And I told him that I was scheduled for a port a cath, he looked at me and asked me, “Why?” He then called my spouse in, and he pulled out a medical book, his lap top, and a huge poster card of a colon. And after he went over everything that I had gone over, so many times at home, he concluded that I did not need a port a cath as a precautionary measure, that I would be killing healthy cells that could cause God knows what to manifest itself within me; he insisted that I go for a third opinion, and I did, and the Oncologist insisted that resectioning and 3 years of surveillance and CEA blood test, every 6 months, be done, along with an annual Colonoscopy and CT Scan. I cancelled the port a cath, only to be scolded by the doctor who did the initial Endoscopy and Colonscopy, who insisted that the most I’d probably live is 4 years, if I were lucky, that I was risking my life by not doing the port a cath, and that I needed another opinion, preferably from a doctor outside of my county. Luckily, I spoke to a close friend about my concerns, and, ironically, her daughter worked for a doctor who specialized in Colon Cancer in New York, at Columbia University’s Medical Center. I faxed over all of my paperwork, and I was told that if any one person were to ever get Colon Cancer, this is the type you would want to get, resectioning was sufficient, along with a tablespoon of Benefiber, daily, and I would be alright.
    It has been close to 2.5 years since my diagnosis and resectioning, along with a very adamant Oncologist who insisted I undergo chemo if I wanted to live longer than 6 months, and I’m doing fine.
    I don’t know about you, but the CCA was a Godsend, in that they were very supportive, informative, and caring. I learned from them that I had to take low dose aspirin, vitamin D3, and that chemo was not necessary, but that I should get a third opinion, instead I got four, because some of the doctors insisted that I was crazy not to do the chemo; and further research indicated that resectioning for Stage 1 was sufficient; and that investing in a small blender, and drinking smoothies would only add to my continued existence. So, I continued to do my research and discovered that strawberries, blueberries, and watermelon were high cancer fighting foods; and for the past 2.5 years I have, from Monday-Friday, walked an hour, (I have always walked, but have increased the time–I was born and raised in Tacoma, but have resided in NJ for the past 27 years) and blended what I deemed required fruits, along with others in season, a teaspoon of flax seed (I grind it myself), and a tablespoon of Benefiber; I take the weekend off, and do nothing in terms of juicing, vitamins, etc.; and thus far, I am cancer free.
    I’ve been quite busy, with my three sons as they prepare to return to college and high school, and today I decided to read my CCA email. And it was nice to have read that you are in your 5th year as a CC Survivor, it gives us all hope. And I understand what you said about your friend, as I too ignored my twin 3 years prior to being diagnosed, when she insisted I have a Colonoscopy, and I insisted at 44 that it wasn’t necessary to have one until I was 50. Had I not fallen down the stairs, and had I waited until I was 50, I’d probably be dead today. But here I am, still here with a lot of hope for the future. I believe that one thing that kept me positive, thus far, is I don’t really think about the CC; I never ever dwelled on it, and I just continued to live my life as if it were the same as it was prior to finding out. Yes, I did change a few things in my exercise routine and diet, but it wasn’t enough to dwell on it. I just kept on walking, laughing, praying, raising my family, singing, swimming, and doing everything that I had done before. I never mentioned it, and no one around did either. I didn’t want my kids to ever think that giving up is an option in life, that sometimes we get these obstacles in our lives that will either stop you, stun you, challenge you, or be a friend; and they had to know that having cancer does not have to defeat you; they had to know that when you get knocked down on your butt, you either get up and keep moving, or stay on the ground and lose ground. I, like them, could see in the eyes of our friends and family that they expected me to be frail, sickly, or incapacitated in some strange way, but I never stopped being me, I refused to let CC define who I was; and I wanted my kids to know that in the face of adversity, you still can smile and be all you can be; genetically Colon Cancer is a part of me, I get that, but it will not get the upper hand as a permanent visitor of my being, unless I choose to stop being me and doing what it is I need to do to stay ahead of the game. Thanks again Michele for your story.

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