September's Hero of the Month: Colon Cancer Prevention Project Executive Director Andrea Shepherd

Our September Hero of the Month is Colon Cancer Prevention Project (C2P2) executive director Andrea Shepherd, pictured above with C2P2 founder Dr. Whitney Jones. Andrea was kind enough to answer our interview questions, which you'll find below.

Exact Sciences: Thank you again for participating in our Hero of the Month column. Could you please start off by describing the Colon Cancer Prevention Project and what makes it unique?

Andrea Shepherd: The Colon Cancer Prevention Project is a non-profit based in Kentucky that was founded in 2004 by Louisville gastroenterologist Dr. Whitney Jones. Its mission is to end preventable colon cancer death and suffering by increasing screening rates through education, advocacy, health systems improvement, and survivor support.

We are the largest non-profit focused solely on colon cancer prevention in Kentucky, and the work of the Project and partners across the state has helped Kentucky’s screening rates soar.

How did you get involved in C2P2?

My father passed away three years ago from colon cancer. Around that time, during an online search, I discovered the Colon Cancer Prevention Project and learned its office was just a 5-minute drive from me. I immediately began volunteering, and a passion for this cause boiled up inside of me.

Being a part of an organization that helps other people to avoid what my dad and my family experienced – well, that’s priceless. After nearly two years of volunteering, I left my career in journalism to be the Project’s executive director.

In your opinion, why is it important for people to be educated about the disease and the prevention methods?

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers among men and women, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the clincher. It’s highly preventable.

By knowing about this disease and its symptoms, talking with your family about your family history, and talking with your physician about the right time for you to be screened, it’s possible to take charge of your health and prevent this disease. That’s empowering.

If my dad had had that education and discussion with his physician, his story would be very different. 

C2P2 does a lot of work to help raise awareness of colorectal cancer screening. Can you share with us one or two current initiatives that you are most excited about?

The Colon Cancer Prevention Project is working on a number of exciting projects right now. Here are two of them:

The Project and partners across the state worked together over the last several years to form the Kentucky Colon Cancer Screening Program. This program received funding from the state legislature for the first time last year ($1 million, which will be matched by a non-profit for a total of $2 million), and launched in 10 sites across Kentucky early this year. This program provides screenings to qualifying low-income, uninsured Kentuckians. This is historic for Kentucky, and provides colon cancer screenings for thousands of Kentuckians. 

The Project also recently launched a new grant program open to Southern Indiana and Kentucky residents undergoing treatment for colon cancer. In this program, qualifying low-income patients can apply for one-time grants that can be used for necessities during treatment, such as paying the bills, buying groceries, or paying for gas to get to and from appointments.

When C2P2 started in 2004, Kentucky was ranked 49th out of 50 states for colon cancer screening. Since then the incidence rate has dropped 16%. Why do you think you have been so successful? 

Kentucky’s screening rates have soared in the last decade, and that’s due to the work of partners across the state that have made colon cancer education and prevention a priority.

Efforts run the gamut from several small community screening programs that used coal severance funds to the proliferation of educational materials and media attention. The Colon Cancer Prevention Project hired a lobbyist to work toward KCCSP funding, and worked with partners to educate legislators – many of whom had been personally impacted by colon cancer – on the importance of prevention.

We started a “Catching a Killer” documentary that has aired across Kentucky many years, initiated a Walk Away from Colon Cancer and 5K Run (now in its 8th year), worked on policies related to screening to increase access, and provided a venue for survivors to share their stories and have support.

We’ve all worked with passion, knowing that lives can be saved. And we’re seeing it happen.

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Topics: Hero of the Month