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Rock star Colon Cancer Alliance volunteer, Candace Henley, was recently recognized by the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority as their Woman of the Year for all of her fabulousness – we’re so proud of her! Candace became a member of this organization in 1993 because she strongly associated with the group’s principles of service, scholarship, finer womanhood and sisterhood. Every year the group celebrates people who have exhibited these principles in their day-to-day life, particularly those who have achieved excellence through exceptional community service and those who have overcome adversity – and that’s certainly fitting for Candace. After her own battle with colon cancer, Candace set out to increase awareness in the African American community through her Blue Hat Initiative. Learn more about Candace’s cancer journey and how she continues to make a difference year after year.

Tell us about the Blue Hat Initiative. What it's all about?

Blue Hat/Bow Tie Sunday™ was created to raise awareness of colon cancer in the low income, uninsured, underinsured African American Community. In 2007, I was in the thick of recovering from the devastation that cancer took on my life and I was desperate to help others, and I wanted to do something to help prevent or reduce the emotional, financial, physical and psychological trauma for others. Because just like I didn’t know what colon cancer was, I was sure there were others like me. I was having a discussion with my cousin about trying to do something different, something that would raise awareness of colon cancer in the African American and low income community. What better way to get attention for awareness of colon cancer than at church? Churches that are aware of the needs of their congregation and the surrounding communities know there is a need for free healthcare screenings due to no insurance, no access to regular care, under-insured and no ability to pay for screenings out of pocket.

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In the African American Community, the “C” word (cancer) has a long history of not wanting to be discussed or keeping that information secret; with “colon cancer” being a cancer of the digestive system, which includes the rectum, the conversation has just landed on deaf ears – period. I had to find a way to get participation in a creative way and make talking about colon cancer a little more comfortable. I remembered when I was younger, I used to see the women in the church wearing beautiful hats and after seeing a documentary about the ladies of the “Red Hat Society”, I thought it would be a perfect and appropriate way to get the churches involved by wearing “Blue Hats” on one designated Sunday in March. I didn’t want to limit it to just Chicago, so made it a worldwide Facebook invitation for anyone anywhere to wear any type of blue hat on this day. In March of 2010, Blue Hat Sunday was created and the participation has continued to grow; By the third (2013) and fourth years (2014), we had more than 5,000 people participate! This year, 2015, we have changed the name to be more inclusive of men so it will now be “Blue Hat Bow Tie Sunday.”

 What does it mean to be recognized in this way?

Words cannot express my sincerest gratitude just to be considered as “Woman of the Year.” To win the award leaves me extremely appreciative and humbled that time was put into checking out what I do. I didn’t start this because I wanted awards; I just wanted to help save lives. This means that I have another platform to continue the efforts of raising awareness in the African American Church and community about colon cancer, and that means everything!

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. 

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