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As you all know by now, March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. This month also marks the fifth anniversary of an organization that is incredibly important to me, the Entertainment Industry Foundation's National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (EIF's NCCRA). I'd like to take a minute to tell you about our work.
Losing my husband Jay to colon cancer was shattering — to me and my daughters; to everyone who loved him. After Jay's death, I was determined to try to put everything I had learned during the course of his illness to good use. If Jay had been screened for colon cancer a few years earlier, it might have saved his life. I wanted to spare other families the type of devastation my own endured.
I sought advice from my friend Lilly Tartikoff, who is a longtime leader in the fight against breast cancer. We talked about what we could do to "save the colons." Lilly suggested I work with EIF, the collective philanthropy for the entertainment industry, and in March of 2000, the NCCRA was born.
We've made solid progress on our two key goals: helping to further the science being done on all aspects of colon cancer and increasing awareness about the critical role screening plays in combating the nation's number two cancer killer. To date, we've raised about $25 million to support the work of nine pre-eminent researchers around the country.
I feel as if I get a lot of credit for our collective efforts, but these scientists are the true unsung heroes in the fight against colon cancer.
On the awareness front, we've made some headway — screening colonoscopies are up 20 percent since we started. But there are still a whopping 41 million Americans who are candidates for screening who have not been tested. To paraphrase Jerry McGuire's memorable movie line, "HELP ME, HELP THEM!" Get your loved ones, colleagues, friends and neighbors to talk to their doctors and get screened (preferably by colonoscopy, the "gold standard" method.) Colorectal cancer will kill almost 57,000 Americans this year, but a majority of colon cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone age 50 or older were screened regularly. To me, it seems like an incredibly simple solution to a huge public health problem.
While science and awareness remain the NCCRA's key areas of emphasis, through our work with The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New York-Presbyterian/ Weill Cornell Medical Center, we've had a chance to help shape the treatment process at one institution. When Jay was sick, the amount of running around he had to do from place to place for tests, consultations and treatments made an already difficult situation nightmarish. At the Monahan Center, which is named after Jay, patient care is offered in a seamless and convenient manner, with physicians and other health care professionals working as a team. The Center provides health and educational services, state-of-the-art prevention, treatment and support for people who have or are at risk for gastrointestinal cancer, and for their families. Virtually all of this care is provided in a single place.
I can't talk about my colon cancer work without thanking everyone at NBC. This is our sixth "Confronting Colon Cancer Series." The time and resources the “Today” show has dedicated to this topic have had an enormous impact, and I am grateful to all of my colleagues for their support.
Thank you for reading through this tome! And please do talk to your doctor and get screened, and get everyone you care about who is over 50 to get screened, too. It could save your life, or the life of someone you love.
If you have a minute, please take a quick look at our National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance Web site at www.nccra.org. There is a treasure trove of good information on it about things we're covering on the series this week. You can order a free CD-ROM with information about colon cancer prevention, and you can check whether your state has a law requiring insurance companies to pay for colon cancer screening — and if it doesn't, you can send an email to your state legislator about it.
And last but not least, thank you for watching “Today.”
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