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How a daughter created a legacy in memory of her father and grandfather lost to colon cancer

Fun at Get Your Rear in Gear Philadephia

In 10 years, a South Jersey woman engaged her tri-state region and fourth largest media market to raise $2.5 million to spread the word about early detection and so much more.

Maria Grasso

Maria Grasso

It started as grief therapy for a Mount Laurel, NJ resident. To combat the cancer that claimed the lives of her loved ones, Maria Grasso gathered and challenged a few hundred people to “Get Their Rears In Gear” during March, National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

Over the next 10 years, the “Rears” grew to more than 4,000 participants, all of whom have been impacted by colon cancer in some way. Warriors, survivors, caregivers were among the participants. Those who lost their respective battles were the angels above.

Greater Philadelphia’s largest colon cancer awareness event will return Sun., March 24, 2019, at Memorial Hall / Please Touch Museum.

Colon Cancer Coalition

Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia in 2011

Since 2009, Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia has raised over $2.5 million for colorectal cancer education, research, and screening efforts in the City of Brotherly Love.

This 4-mile run, 2-mile walk, and Kids’ Fun Run raises money to increase colon cancer screenings and early detection of the disease, as well as supporting those living with a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Registration is now open.

Maria dancing with her Dad

“Unfortunately, my father was a late stage diagnosis and lost his battle after only 10 months. Losing him to colon cancer at the young age of 67 was the worst time of my life,” recalls Grasso. “Initially, I did not see myself as an advocate, I was grieving. Then, after his death, I decided to take the focus off my own grief and attack this disease head on to help others. Now, I produce this annual event in his memory.”

Grasso firmly believes that lives can be saved through important conversations and increasing on-time screening for a disease that has a 90% survival rate if found early. “It is critical that we educate on the life-saving importance of colorectal cancer screenings.”

Maria Grasso and brother Mark Hepperlen

Maria Grasso with her brother Mark Hepperlen

The funds raised from Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia have been used to help address disparities in screening rates for low income and minority populations and to pay for quality of life research for patients through programs at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s, Division of Colorectal Surgery and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Fox Chase Cancer Center, the American Association for Cancer Research, the University of Pennsylvania/Penn Medicine, and others.

“We are so thankful for the work Maria Grasso has done in Philadelphia,” said Anne Carlson, president of the Colon Cancer Coalition. “The time she dedicates to colorectal cancer awareness and screening is making an impact in a city with one of the lowest screening rates in the country. Maria has mined the strength and dedication Philadelphians have for helping their neighbors. We look forward to working with her to make an even larger impact in the next decade.”

Jefferson, Philadelphia, PA

Check presentation to Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center

It has been a privilege for Jefferson to partner with Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia from day one,” says Kelly Austin, Director of Development at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center. “The support provided by these grants helps us to do extraordinary, life-saving work.”

“We are grateful to Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia for supporting the research at Fox Chase Cancer Center that improves the quality of life for colon and rectal cancer patients,” said Dr. Jeffrey Farma at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “This partnership is helping to improve outcomes not just for Philadelphia residents, but for colorectal cancer patients across the country.”

Funding is also extended in the form of travel grants to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for young colon cancer research scholars to attend AACR’s annual meeting, the world’s foremost gathering of scientists dedicated to preventing and curing cancer through research, education, communication, collaboration, funding and advocacy.

Maria Grasso with Sheila Hess, City Representative, City of Philadelphia_sqq

Maria Grasso with Sheila Hess, City Representative, City of Philadelphia, in 2018

Four years ago, to tee up even more awareness and support for the main event, Grasso created a companion event known as On the Runway for a Cure, a fashion victory show featuring survivors and caregivers as models. This event highlights the survivors and allows them the opportunity to feel strong, stand tall, look good and most importantly…show that this disease has not beaten them. It is powerfully inspirational.

 

2019 is the 11th year that the colon cancer community will gather in Philadelphia to celebrate patients, survivors and caregivers, and to remember those who left us too soon. They will be able to walk the Blue Mile filled with tributes to those lost to colon and rectal cancer or visit the giant inflatable colon to see what a doctor sees during a colonoscopy – a healthy colon wall and how a polyp progress from benign into stage IV colorectal cancer. There will be an educational pavilion, live music and most of all, hope.

Registration is available at ColonCancerCoalition.org/Philadelphia. Information about volunteering, fundraising, sponsoring the event, or forming a team can also be found on the website.

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