Dress in Blue Day began with Anita Mitchell Isler, a stage IV colon cancer survivor who lost a close friend and her father to the disease. Anita saw a need to bring greater awareness to a cancer not many people wanted to discuss. What started in her child's classroom is now a nationally-recognized event where individuals across the country unite to honor those who have battled this disease. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Dress in Blue Day, we also celebrate Anita and her dedication to spreading awareness and knocking out colon cancer.
I started Dress in Blue Day out of a frustration that I was the third parent in my children's school's community to be diagnosed under the age of 50. One of the parents was my dear friend and was only 37 when she passed, yet I knew nothing about colorectal cancer.
I wanted to educate people on the symptoms and screening guidelines. I wanted to share my newfound knowledge that colorectal cancer could be prevented. I did not know my family history correctly or that my symptoms were all warning signs. My case was totally preventable!
I got permission from the principle to hold the awareness day. The kids, who normally wore uniforms, could come in wearing blue that day. I sent educational information home to parents and contacted local media to take pictures. The story went into the paper, which helped it reach a much bigger audience.
The second year I dedicated the day to my friend Carmen Mitchell, who has passed in March and who had been so inspirational to me in my treatment journey.
I added and tried different outreach each year: mayoral proclamations, businesses and work place outreach, small communities and door to door—even a local sporting event. In the meantime, I started Colon Cancer Stars, a local Washington State nonprofit focusing on education, screening in high risk groups and patient support.
In 2009, the Colon Cancer Alliance and Colon Stars launched Dress in Blue Day nationally. It was wonderful to see what we could accomplish by having a national colorectal cancer group involved. It has grown leaps and bounds, becoming an amazing campaign that people all over the country get involved in. Jeopardy even mentioned Dress in Blue Day last year! It has been great to witness how much the day has grown.
Even though we’ve increased screening awareness, I am still frustrated watching many wonderful people in the last 11 years pass from this cancer. The rise in young people being diagnosed also makes Dress in Blue day so important.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Dress in Blue Day and it is sentimental to me in many ways. I have always loved the number 10—it was my kid’s soccer number and it’s the perfect score for gymnastics and diving (yes, more sports my kids participated in). But the big thing for me personally is, I have been in remission for 10 years, something not many stage IV people get to say.
This year, I will get the pleasure of watching my daughter, who was involved in the first Dress in Blue Day and is in her first year of teaching, introduce Dress in Blue Day to her school. How lucky am I to be able to see that?
Learn more about Dress in Blue Day at dressinblueday.org! Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.