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.