Starting Monday, March 29, Katie Couric will host a special five-part series on “Today” entitled “Confronting Colon Cancer.” Here she writes about the series and her efforts to create awareness about the disease:
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Why is the series important to you?
After I lost my husband, Jay, to colorectal cancer in 1998, I became determined to share my newfound knowledge about this deadly disease with the public. My decision to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness and prevention seemed perfectly logical — over 6.3 million people watch the “Today” show every day — to not use it as a bully pulpit to impart potentially life-saving information seemed to me then and now tantamount to criminal negligence.
What has been the success over the years?
Over the past years, colonoscopy testing has increased by 20 percent. Researchers at the University of Michigan are actually calling it "The Couric Effect." I'm not sure how excited I am about being that closely associated with that part of our anatomy, but if we are saving lives, I am absolutely thrilled.
The prep is really worse than the procedure. The whole reason I decided to air my colonoscopy publicly, is because I was hoping to demystify the procedure. A colonoscopy may not be on the top of your to-do list, but it is a lot more fun than being diagnosed with cancer.
What should people know about colon cancer?
The most important thing for people to know about colon cancer, is that it has a 90 percent cure rate if detected in time. Women are affected just as often as men are.
It is also important to know that no family history of the disease is no guarantee. Family history could start with you.
What is the Entertainment Industry Foundation's NCCRA?
In March of 2000, I formally launched the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance with the EIF, Entertainment Industry Foundation. Our goal is threefold: We want to educate people, prompt them to take action by talking with their doctors about screening, and raise desperately needed research dollars so cutting-edge scientists can work on prevention strategies, screening techniques, and better treatment options. To learn more about our work, visit: www.eif.nccra.org.
Do you have a special story about your work creating awareness about colon cancer?
I'm so often moved by letters I receive from people who say they were motivated to get tested because of my efforts. For example, letters like this one from a man in Flintside, PA:
"I am a bit late with this. Thank you. You made me make an important decision about finally having a colonoscopy after I watched you undergo the same operation on national TV. Before your colonoscopy aired, I canceled three or four appointments in the space of a year and a half. The doctor found an obstruction while doing the procedure. Because the tumor was feared to be malignant, I was advised to have it removed. The surgery went well. I started chemotherapy on July 31. This will last for six months. I am a working senior managing the property of a 154-apartment complex here in Glenside, PA. I hope to remain in the business world for some time. I believe I have you to thank for that. I'm sure that I would have found another excuse to postpone another appointment, had I not seen your special on colon cancer. My family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts."
Likewise, I run into people on the street who tell me I prompted them to get screened.
These are strange things to tell a stranger, but my day is always brightened when I hear news like this! It's such a wonderful feeling knowing that people will continue to live healthy, prosperous lives!
What is the Jay Monahan Center?
The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health, named in honor of my late husband, will be opening on March 30, 2004, at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. It's going to be a world-class gastrointestinal cancer and wellness center.
The idea for the center grew out of my conversations with Jay's gastroenterologist, Mark Pochapin, who is the director of the Monahan Center. The going from place to place you have to do for tests and treatments makes an already nightmarish experience already more trying.
The center will serve as a unique model of coordinated and compassionate care, dedicated to public education and outreach, and in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers — including cancers of the colon, rectum, pancreas, esophagus, liver, stomach, and small intestine.
Be sure to watch “Today” all this week for Katie Couric’s week-long series, “Confronting Colon Cancer.”
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