Grace De La Rosa was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was 38 years old and had two young children. This year marks her 9th year as a survivor, and she’s celebrating by getting involved in a way big. After attending our National Conference last year and being inspired by so many of her fellow colon cancer warriors, she decided she was going to jump in with both hands with her own volunteer efforts. So in March, in conjunction with Colon Cancer Awareness Month, she launched her Be a Blue Buddy campaign that’s gotten some serious traction in Florida and beyond and has raised $1,500 for our Blue Note Fund. Grace, thank you for your dedication to supporting patients and saving lives – you continue to inspire us!
Who is Grace De La Rosa?
I was 38 when I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2005. My husband was a pilot in the Navy, and our children were 14 and 3 at the time. I was a professional swimwear model, fitness instructor and fitness competitor. I worked out religiously and ate healthy foods. So I was shocked to hear the words, "You have cancer." For more of my story, go to my online cancer journal.
This year marks my 9th year as a survivor. It's also my first year advocating for more awareness in my community - Jacksonville, FL. I call my awareness campaign Be a Blue Buddy, which is not an organization, but rather, a personal call to action with a mission to help raise awareness and educate the community about colon cancer, the importance of screening and early detection, to give hope to newly diagnosed patients, to honor those who have died from this disease and perhaps, to save lives.
Tell us about all of your amazing March (and ongoing) initiatives.
As part of my Be a Blue Buddy campaign, I obtained proclamations from both Florida Governor Rick Scott and Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville, FL in support of my awareness efforts and in recognition of March 2014 as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and March 7, 2014 as Dress in Blue Day.
I co-produced two colon cancer awareness videos with Bernardo Santana III of EnFocus Media, a local Emmy award-winning director in Jacksonville, FL. I am also the spokesperson in one of the videos. The videos are used in conjunction with my awareness campaign, one of which I use as part of my speaking presentations. These videos can be found on Be a Blue Buddy’s Facebook page, my personal website, YouTube and Vimeo.
I created my first-ever online fundraiser throughout the month of March and donated the proceeds to Colon Cancer Alliance’s Blue Note Fund, a financial assistance program helping colon cancer patients and their families during their time of need. Tokens of appreciation were sent to those who made financial contributions and all of these products furthered colon cancer awareness in some way.
During Dress in Blue Day, I received about 70 photo submissions from family, friends, acquaintances, businesses and even strangers from across the country wearing blue to show support. I posted these photos on Be a Blue Buddy’s Facebook page so others who are affected by this disease can see that they are not alone in this fight.
I have been fortunate to garner media attention that’s brought even more attention to colon cancer, screening and early detection. I was featured on WJXT-TV4’s Morning Show, WNZF’s Living with Cancer radio program, Mayo Clinic’s website, Generation W’s Twitter Party, The Florida Times-Union newspaper and The Beaches Leader newspaper. I have also spread the word as a guest speaker at different events and companies, including the Rotary Club of East Arlington, Jacksonville Arlington Lions Club, Jacksonville Division of the Department of Labor (Dept. of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation or DEEOIC) and Jacksonville Electric Authority, the 7th largest community-owned utility company in the country. And on June 1st, I will be the keynote speaker at the National Cancer Survivors Day in Palm Coast, FL. I’m always sure to hand out Colon Cancer Alliance flyers and Ask Me Why I’m Blue (blue star) pins!
Why did you decide to get involved in such a big way?
I was inspired at last year’s Colon Cancer Alliance National Conference in Miami, FL. It was my first time attending a conference. I felt a surge of true strength, courage, positivity and perseverance being surrounded by so many survivors from across the country, several who were in active treatment at the time. Survivors such as Teri Griege, Gloria Borges, Cynthia Heath, Candace Henley and David Dubin spoke of their successful efforts. It was then that I knew I wanted to inform my own community about colon cancer. The timing was perfect with National Colon Cancer Awareness Month right around the corner.
What would you most like to see happen during March?
I would love to see a wave of blue throughout the month of March, and especially on Dress in Blue Day, in my city and across the country. I’d especially like to see an increase in screening rates, and a decrease in incidence and death rates. I would like to see a change in current medical guidelines recommending regular screenings begin at the age of 30 or 40 as opposed to 50.
Many people are averse to undergoing a colonoscopy simply for screening purposes whether it is due to cost, prep or the actual procedure. We need to educate the public about other available screening options such as stool sample kits or over-the-counter kits such as EZ Detect, both of which can be done in the privacy of their home and are affordable at $25 and $12 before insurance, respectively. These kits should be available and free for distribution throughout the entire month of March. Also, these kits should be available for free at all public health facilities year-round. I believe if we want to see an increase in screening rates, we need to serve the under-insured or uninsured population first and foremost.
What tips do you have for people who haven't been involved but would like to be?
As I stated earlier, this is my first year actively participating in any type of awareness and educational efforts. Hopefully I have many more years ahead of me to continually learn, re-evaluate and make necessary adjustments to further my mission. Follow your heart and passion. Work with what is currently available to you, and the rest will fall into place.
Learn more about Grace on her Cancer Journal Blog. And don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!