Michelle Swanson: I know he is by my side

Bill Swanson filled rooms with his loud voice and distinctive laugh. He had positive energy and a charismatic smile. In all things, he went all the way. Sometimes, he went even a little further.

For golf outings, his favorite pastime, Bill wore the whole get-up: argyle socks, polo shirt, a cigar in his hand. He ventured with friends to Scotland for the British Open, where he wore a kilt.

There was also the time he swam from a boat off the Virgin Islands to a seaside restaurant named the Soggy Dollar. He laid his dollars out on the table to dry, though they’d just get wet again.


He liked to keep his wallet in order.

“Jeepers,” he’d say.

He also said that he remembered meeting his wife, Michelle Swanson, before she remembers meeting him.

They both worked at Turner Construction. She was married. He was a project executive and engineer. When they met for the first time at a job site, she brushed him off, he’d say. But two years later, when they saw each other again and she was single, he captured her attention. He “chased her down,” he’d say.

They were together for 11 years after that, and then they were married in late 2016.

“He just emulated what a husband, a man was supposed to be,” Michelle says. “He was the protector and caregiver. He treated my sons as his own.”

But, much like a stereotypical male, Michelle says, he ignored the slight discomforts in his body, favoring a doctor-free lifestyle. He brushed off occasional lightheadedness, for example.

In retrospect, Michelle says, his hemoglobin levels were low. The tumor in his colon was sucking up red blood cells. Eventually, he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.

Bill died on January 19, 2017, at 53 years old.

“Had he gotten a colonoscopy when he turned 50, had he had blood work done when he was supposed to, had he listened to his body, maybe he’d still be here,” Michelle says. “It’s a highly treatable disease. You shouldn’t die from it.”

Doctors recommend screening starting at age 50 for people at normal risk. Screening should begin earlier for African Americans and those with a family history of the disease.

Bill’s memorial service was at Lutheran church in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He would have been overwhelmed with the turnout, Michelle says.

“I know Bill didn’t realize that he was loved as much as he was,” Michelle says. “This guy lived life hard, he died too young, but he made a lasting impression on everybody.”

After the service, Michelle hosted an open house. Friends and family filled the home, laughing through night, sharing stories of Bill until the wee hours of the morning.

In the weeks that followed, Michelle built a wall around her heart, though. She went full-speed ahead. She was a mom and a hard worker. She couldn’t relax.  

“I didn’t realize until just recently how much losing him affected me, more ways than I thought,” she says.”It’s like half my body was cut off.”

Despite her grief, Michelle got to work, along with with others at Turner Construction, planning a golf tournament in Bill’s memory. The first tournament raised more than $15,000 for the Alliance. Another tournament is planned for this year.

Michelle wants the tournament to be a place where people realize that, sometimes, you have to stop and savor life.

“Don’t get caught up in the day-to-day, take a step back, take a deep breath,” Michelle says. “If people walk away with a couple of those little reminders, and it helps them, that means a lot to me.”

Michelle also said she wants to relay an important message: Listen to you body. Get screened.

Bill would want that.

“I know he is by my side and guiding me,” Michelle says. “I’m incredibly thankful that I had him for the 11 years I had him.”

In March, we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Join us as we build our nation of passionate allies, fiercely determined to end this disease within our lifetime.

Kendra Mitchell: Healing by giving back

As a stage-I colon cancer survivor and prevention advocate, Kendra Mitchell, 38, says she’s a rare breed.

“There aren’t enough early stage survivors who are advocating, and that confuses me,” she said. “I guess if something like this happens, you want to move on with your life and forget about it.”

But Kendra didn’t. Instead, she became involved in the Denver Undy RunWalk. The Undy is a 5K run/walk and one-miler that aims to get the conversation started about colorectal cancer and raise funds for research, prevention, and patient and family support.

Kendra volunteers as a co-chair on the Undy Engagement Committee, a group of volunteers that helps plan the event.

She also joined the Never Too Young Advisory Board, a volunteer organization addressing the concerns and needs of young colorectal cancer survivors, who are often overlooked due to their age because it’s typically seen in adults over 50 years old.

She attributes her passion and volunteerism to two points. First, she felt a sense of responsibility.

“Initially, I felt like so many people reached out to help me that I’d love to be able to give back,” she said.

And then, after she became involved with the Denver Undy RunWalk community, she realized something else.

“Instantly I realized that the Undy was a huge part of my healing from the disease that I didn’t know I needed,” she said. “Here was this whole community I didn’t know I needed.”

After her diagnosis four years ago, Kendra said she was in shock. She didn’t panic. She didn’t cry. She didn’t even notice something was amiss until months later, when she wasn’t eating like she once did.  

“I felt that when your physical recovery is over, then all of it was over,” she said. “But it probably wasn’t until that moment that the mental stuff started. So that has been the journey of the last yearworking on my mind, my heart, and my body as well.”

Before cancer, Kendra was a self-described workaholic and ladder climber. She worked as a project manager, opening up makeup stores and dentist offices across the country, traveling three weeks out of the month.

“I just wanted the next promotion, and I was killing myself to get it,” she said. “And now, I’ve taken a step back.”

Today, she works at the largest volunteer-driven, non-profit health and education program in the nation, 9Health Fair, giving people the tools to own their health

Kendra says she was lucky. She considers herself a poster child of what can happen when doctors recognize that young people can get colorectal cancer, too. Even after ignoring symptoms for nine months, like she says young people have a tendency to do, it all turned out OK.

“All the things fell into place the way they should, and I had a relatively easy experience,” she said. “I hear so many times people my age were misdiagnosed for years and years.”

Indeed, 11% of colorectal cancer patients are under age 50, and an Alliance study showed 82% of young-onset patients were initially misdiagnosed.

With the Denver Undy RunWalk coming up, Kendra hopes to instill a sense of awareness among young people and physicians.

“My big thing has been listening to your body,” she said. “I just kept making excuses and ignoring it because I was working on other things. Hopefully my personal story will help clinicians out there think that they better check for cancer.”

In March, we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Join us as we build our nation of passionate allies, fiercely determined to end this disease within our lifetime.  

Q&A: Jeannie Moore on Blue Hope Nation’s 10,000th member

On Dress in Blue Day 2018, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s Blue Hope Nation online community reached 10,000 members. Blue Hope Nation is a private Facebook community for colorectal cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. Members can ask questions, encourage one another, and share news. Jeannie Moore, a co-founder of the Alliance and contributor in Blue Hope Nation, answered some questions for us about the group:

Alliance: Wow, 10,000 members! Why do you think Blue Hope Nation attracts and keeps so many of its participants?

The only growing demographic of colorectal cancer patients is adults under 50, who are very comfortable with the computer and can find us with a simple Google search. They’re looking for support, they’re looking for information, and they’re looking for someone to talk to. We keep participants because it’s such an active board, with at least several dozen posts every day.

Alliance: When did Blue Hope Nation get started?

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance started this particular Facebook group several years ago, and it’s been growing ever since. Before that, we had communities on other platforms, but the Facebook page took off. Everyone is on Facebook!

Alliance: This is a private online community. Why do you screen participants?

We try to protect our members from spammers. People who are selling sunglasses don’t need to be on Blue Hope Nation. It’s also a closed group so people don’t have to worry about what they’re posting. A lot of people are concerned about what family, friends, or colleagues may think about this disease. This gives them freedom to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Alliance: Sometimes topics on Blue Hope Nation can become difficult. Do you think these difficult conversations are productive?

It is important because, as much as we want everyone to survive this disease and get through their treatments with ease, the truth is treatments are challenging and people do get frustrated, depressed, and scared. And yes, sadly, people do die. We need a safe place where we can talk about it. We need to be able to honor the patient journey and support one another.  

Alliance: When you respond to a post on Blue Hope Nation, what do you keep in mind?

I always try to convey a warm, supportive voice. People say I’m too mushy, but I want to come across as caring and open. I think all of us have a very supportive way of interacting with each other. We recognize how vulnerable and scared a patient or caregiver can be.

Alliance: What is your colorectal cancer story?

In a nutshell, my mother was diagnosed stage IIIC rectal cancer on Mother’s Day 1998. At the time, we didn’t know what colorectal cancer was, but we found ACOR online community, which had a listserv dedicated to this disease. I learned a lot from the list owner, Marshall Kragen. He was so patient with me. When he passed away, myself and 40 other listserv participants created the Alliance. A brick-and-mortar organization dedicated to this disease was always Marshall’s dream.

Alliance: Blue Hope Nation is primarily an online community, of course, but what’s it like when you meet those Facebook avatars in-person, at our National Conference, an Undy, or elsewhere?

It’s wonderful. It’s the best part of the any event to meet people you’ve known for years online face-to-face.

Alliance: If someone reading this wants to join Blue Hope Nation, how can they do so?

The just click the “join” button on the page and answer a couple questions. Again, these questions help protect all participates and ensure a safe, welcoming community.

Alliance: Do you have any advice for new participants?

Some people like to lurk for a little bit to just read and learn. My advice is to jump right in, introduce yourself, and ask us any questions you have. You will be surrounded by support within minutes.


National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month 2018

Together as a nation of passionate allies, we can end this senseless killer within our lifetime.

When you donate, fundraise, or dress in blue this month, you will help us provide support, raise awareness, and fund critical research to benefit millions of colorectal cancer patients, survivors, and family members.

Every ally is a hero.