Gary Buser tries not to think about the plans he and his wife had made. Instead, he remembers who Laurel was as a person — a proud mom of two with a philanthropic heart and a bright, uplifting smile. And he will honor her memory at this weekend’s Tampa Bay Walk to End Colon Cancer.
“We were best friends,” Buser, 51, said. “With the kids just about out of college, we were going to start traveling more, but we didn’t get that chance.”
Though Laurel died after complications from surgery in February 2019, it was colorectal cancer that took her to the operating room. Now, inspired by his wife’s legacy of giving, Buser is sharing what he learned through tragedy and helping others avoid a similar fate.
“We knew nothing about this disease when she got it — nobody seems to know anything about it,” Buser said. “The fact is, we can raise awareness and end this stigma about this particular disease. Yes, it’s in your butt, but cancer is cancer, wherever it occurs, and we need to address it.”
Buser, as part of the local committee that organizes the Tampa Bay Walk to End Colon Cancer, plans to address this disease in a highly visible way on Saturday. He found a bustling spot along the busiest street in Tampa — between the Chick-fil-A and Sonic on North Dale Mabry Highway — and negotiated with the property owners to let him host the Walk’s drive-through victory lap there.
“We will have signs and flags visible to thousands of people every hour as they go by,” Buser said. “When they see it, maybe they’ll say, ‘I didn’t know that.’ Maybe they’ll know there is help if they need it.”
The Tampa Bay Walk is part of an events series by the national nonprofit Colorectal Cancer Alliance to help build the community, awareness and funds needed to end this disease. Colorectal cancer — which is cancer of the colon or rectum — is the second deadliest cancer in the U.S. among men and women combined. Screening is the No. 1 way to prevent and detect colorectal cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
Laurel was only screened after she “strong-armed” a doctor into it, Buser said. She had been experiencing rectal bleeding — a common symptom of colorectal cancer — but was only 48 years old at the time, two years younger than the age at which most insurance companies will currently cover colonoscopies.
“When we found the cancer, she was completely determined to beat it,” Buser said. “We unfortunately had this tragic circumstance, and we want to make sure other people don't have to go through this type of thing.”
Tampa Bay Walk to End Colon Cancer participants can raise awareness by walking in their neighborhoods and sharing their experiences on social media with the hashtag #ColonCancerWalk. Then they can safely gather for a drive-through victory lap to celebrate steps toward ending this disease.
The Tampa Bay Walk comes just days before National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which runs through March. This year, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance is aiming to get colorectal cancer screenings back on track, as COVID-19 has led thousands of people to delay or forgo the potentially life-saving procedure.
In 2021, an estimated 149,500 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, including 11,220 in Florida.
What: Tampa Bay Walk to End Colon Cancer
When: Saturday, February 27, 2021
Where: Virtually, with a drive-through Victory Lap at 2525 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Sponsors: Taiho Oncology, Salix Pharmaceuticals, BrandONE, AdventHealth Tampa, Bridge Clinic, Gastro Florida, Hillsborough County Health Care Services, Tampa General Hospital
About the Colorectal Cancer Alliance
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is a national nonprofit committed to ending colorectal cancer. Working with our nation of passionate allies, we diligently support the needs of patients and families, caregivers, and survivors; eagerly raise awareness of preventive screening; and continually strive to fund critical research. As allies in the struggle, we are fiercely determined to end colorectal cancer within our lifetime. For more information, visit ccalliance.org.
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