I spent this past weekend at the annual Colon Club “Colon Camp,” representing the Colon Cancer Coalition. I was there to work, connect, and help educate this upcoming group of advocates about what we do not just through our local Get Your Rear in Gear events, but with our national awareness and education efforts. But I wasn’t just some outsider from another colorectal cancer group coming in for the weekend, I was also one of them.
As a stage IV survivor diagnosed at 34, these were my people, which gave me “street cred” before I even showed up. I walked into the 5-Star Retreat already knowing many of the survivors there. Some from various colorectal cancer events like Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Call on Congress, some from Get Your Rear in Gear races, and some from social media and online support groups like COLONTOWN. Though it was a reunion of sorts for me, it also the chance to witness many find and embrace their public identity as young survivors for the first time. There is nothing quite like finding your people, and in our intimate world of colon and rectal cancer, it’s magical to sit back and watch it happen for others.
The Colon Club uses this weekend to help these featured survivors bare their scars – a process that does not come without tears for many. In a world of air brushed images, and beauty apps that make your selfie look more perfect that we know it actually is, asking a young person to lift their shirt and show the wounds and damage of what this disease has done can be embarrassing, painful, and shameful. Many have done what they can to hide the physical repercussions of this disease, knowing that in this single weekend they will channel the support of those around them to show off what they have worked so hard to hide.
As much as we celebrate and want to show off these young survivors, there are too many who have not beaten this disease and could not have an experience like Colon Camp. In an effort to represent the many it has taken, The Colon Club is including caregivers in the 2018 On the Rise Magazine line up. It’s vital to share the stories of hope, but the harsh reality is this disease does not end well for too many young people. Because they fall below the recommended screening age, many are diagnosed with late stage disease, where survivability is not an option.
These new featured survivors and caregivers have pulled up their chair to a table full of their peers, each working to put a young face on a disease not associated with youth. This week many of them will find their voice for the first time, and find their place in our united efforts to raise awareness about early onset disease. Colon Camp and the chance to be in One the Rise Magazine aims to take away that stigma of perfection. A week spent with “your people” empowers many to embrace the scars they bare, knowing they are not alone in having and hiding them.
The 2018 On the Rise Magazine will feature a young woman who was diagnosed while pregnant, one who has gone into remission on an immunotherapy drug trial, one who has turned his illustrations into a popular cancer-related comic strip, one who lost her husband shortly after giving birth to their first child, one who has achieved long term stability for her stage IV colon cancer on current chemotherapy drugs, and a mother fighting her stage IV disease while raising a disabled and dependent son. Their age and diversity aside, they came to this weekend with the one thing that unites us all, and with the hope that their story can make a difference.