Cancer Awareness Q&A with Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation

Cancer Awareness Q&A with Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation

06.14.12 | By Preet Bilinski

We sat down with Michael Sapienza, the Executive Director and Founder of Chris4Life, a patient advocacy organization committed to improving the treatment experience for patients and caregivers, and to dramatically raising awareness about colon cancer.

Q: How did Chris4Life get started?

A: It started in the fall of 2009 after my mom passed away from a three year battle with colon cancer. She was diagnosed at age 56. And I always tell people, one of the main reasons I started this foundation is because if my mom would have gotten her colonoscopy at age 50 she would still be with us today.

There is so much awareness for other forms of cancer like leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, it's wonderful. In the early 1980s people would whisper the word cancer, the word breast and now it's 'save the tatas'. We need to do that for colon cancer. Colon cancer is a 90% preventable disease and it's one of the reasons we started the foundation.

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Q: Tell me about the Scope it Out 5K.

A: In 2009, before we had started Chris4Life, our family decided to form a team for the Scope it Out 5K, we had approximately 50 people in our team and raised about $20,000. At the time it was one of the largest colorectal cancer awareness events in the country, in the world for that matter. My mom was in the hospital at the time, and it just made her really happy.

Q: How was the race this year, what are the plans for the future?

A: This is the second year we've had the Scope It out 5K with Chris 4Life and this year we raised over a quarter of a million dollars and had over 3,500 people register for the race. Additional races in Pittsburgh and Detroit are scheduled for the fall and next year we are expanding to Chicago and LA, as well.

Q: How important is the need for awareness and prevention?

A: I recently talked to a 33 year old mother of a 6-year old child; she was diagnosed when she was 30 years old with stage 4 colon cancer. Right now she has to make a choice between continuing treatment and not continuing treatment. I say every day that I wish my mom was here, I wish she could be here; I wish she could see what we were doing. But I also think that she made the ultimate sacrifice so that we as a community can make a difference in people's lives. I really think that for me the most important thing is to stress that people can get colonoscopies or should get colonoscopies when they turn 50; if they have a family history at age 40; or if you're African American at age 45. It's a preventable disease, 90% preventable if you get screened early enough.

Q: How important is research and development?

A: Right now in the United States there are 1.2 million colorectal cancer patients, those people have already been diagnosed, and unfortunately screening did not help them. They either didn't get the preventative measures or they just didn't catch it early enough. So research and development and drug discovery, new therapies are absolutely essential to these 1.2 million people in the country.

Q: How is Chris4Life helping patients?

A; There are people that have been diagnosed with this disease and we feel it's really important to take care of them. We have the Chris4Life Fund which offers financial support to patients across the United States, we've given out about $100,000 in the last year to over 400 patients and we continue to do so. It helps them with groceries, child care, copays any of those things that are necessary in the fight against colon cancer. We have a new multimedia resource guide for newly diagnosed patients and patients that have been diagnosed with a reoccurrence of colorectal cancer. So not only are they able to go online and click on the chapter on what happens when my fingers start to get numb from this therapy or what do I do to talk to my kids. We also have a prevention and awareness program that includes all of our events, and includes PSA's that help spread awareness of the disease.

Q: What do you want people to know about colon cancer?

A: Today, 220 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States, and they will have to go through the same things that my family went through. The pain and the suffering, was one of the worse things I've ever had to see in my life, I don't wish that on anybody. It's one of the reasons why we need to find a cure so that people like my mom and the thousands of others out there don't have to suffer from this disease anymore.

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