Randy Cox and Debbie Whitmore
Colon Cancer Alliance volunteers are the backbone of our organization; the dedication of these rock stars has governed our success since the beginning. After all, if we didn’t have ambassadors out in the field spreading the message, how would we make any progress in early detection and, ultimately, saving lives? Standing up for what you believe in takes spirit, bravery and passion. This month, two of our devotees deserve some extra special recognition.
Randy Cox and Debbie Whitmore are both stage IV colon cancer survivors. In March, the duo shared their stories at an event at Boston Scientific, a global medical device company dedicated to generating awareness about the prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer. At the event, Randy and Debbie spoke very openly about their diagnoses and struggles with this disease. Employees at Boston Scientific were so inspired by their stories that the company became the founding partner of our soon-to-debut Screening Assistance Program. Because these two survivors chose to stand up and share their stories, countless people will soon be awarded grants for a potentially life-saving screening test they otherwise couldn’t afford. Now that’s applause worthy!
We sat down with Randy and Debbie to find out what events they’ve been involved with and what they’ve gotten out of their years of volunteering.
How have you been involved with the Colon Cancer Alliance?
Randy: I returned on July 24 from an international summit in Berlin, then got up the next morning and headed to Dana Farber for my 60th round of chemotherapy. In many ways it's a great life. Of course, it wouldn't be possible or necessary for me if I wasn't facing metastatic colon cancer.
I've been involved with everything from staffing information tables, sharing my story publicly and being a panelist at events. I started by helping staff a table at the 2012 Convention of the Association of Oncology Social Workers (AOSW). Since then, I’ve exhibited on behalf of the CCA at some of the major cancer conferences and events. In March, I spoke candidly at a Boston Scientific event where I was reminding the listeners to get their colonoscopies so they didn’t end up like me. I also participate in the CCA's Buddy Program and in a similar program at Dana Farber called One-to-One.
Debbie: I spread the word on colon cancer as often as I can. I first started in 2012, when I was the speaker at our local Relay for Life. Early this year, I spoke to about 800 people at an American Cancer Society fundraiser and then in March, I spoke at a Boston Scientific event in Marlborough, MA, and at the Sanofi Aventis colorectal cancer conference. I was still connected to my 5-FU pump! I’ve been interviewed by our local cable station, and this month will be speaking with my oncologist at the Dana Farber - Jimmy Fund radio/TV fundraiser at Fenway Park! In the fall I’ll be speaking at the Boston Get Your Rear in Gear 5K and am even one of the faces on their race flyer!
You’re both involved with so much. Does it ever become overwhelming?
Randy: For talks and panel discussions, I try to share my emotional journey with as much honesty as I can muster without falling apart on stage. I've broken down into tears a few times when talking about patients I've known who are no longer living. Sometimes it's hard, but my goal has always been to make the audience stop thinking of patients as anonymous things, and make them think of us as real people.
Debbie: I never knew I could speak in front of people before I started volunteering. I sat down one day and wrote my cancer story and read from those notes to help me keep all my facts in order (timeline, etc.). I think with this stage IV diagnosis, I have become a stronger person. I want to help others. I don't want anyone else to experience the physical and mental struggles dealing with a terminal illness. That’s what keeps me doing it, even when it does seem overwhelming.
Why is volunteering important to you?
Randy: I have really appreciated the opportunities I've had to share my experiences as a colon cancer patient. Being the center of attention (in a good way) gives me a boost of cheerfulness and energy, but it's really more than that. I want to help as many people as possible avoid joining our cancer club and I want the medical establishment to create more effective treatments with fewer side effects.
Debbie: Being a CCA volunteer is so rewarding. I have been able to speak with other patients through the Buddy Program; I have met other CCA volunteers, like Randy, at the CCA conferences and events and I’ve formed supportive relationships. Even if I am tired from my treatment, I can still "put on the adrenaline," as I say, and push through a speech, knowing that my story may help save someone's life one day. That’s what makes my fight worth it.
Randy and Debbie, thank you for your unrelenting devotion to this cause, and for helping us get one step closer to a future free of colon cancer.
Interested in becoming a CCA volunteer? We have a spot for you!