2013 Hero Of The Month Highlights

Over the past year, Exact Sciences had the privilege of featuring ten incredible individuals as our Heroes of the Month. Each hero demonstrates unparalleled passion, drive, and commitment to the prevention and ultimate eradication of colon cancer in his or her own unique way. We would like to commend our heroes for their continuous efforts by highlighting a few of the many inspirational messages they shared with us.

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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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August Hero of the Month: Colon Cancer Survivor and WunderGlo Foundation Founder Gloria Borges

This month's Hero of the Month is stage IV colon cancer survivor, WunderGlo Foundation founder and Wunder Project founder Gloria Borges. Gloria was kind enough to sit down for an interview with Exact Sciences.

Exact Sciences: Thank you again for participating in our Hero of the Month column. Let’s begin by learning a little more about your personal connection to colon cancer.

Gloria Borges: At 28 years old, I was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer. My physician told me I would not live out the remainder of the year. Unlike most patients with colon cancer, mine did not spread to my liver but went to my abdominal cavity. The amount of disease was so incredible that I was tearfully told I would never practice law or play basketball again. I refused to accept that was my fate. Being a competitive person, I was automatically charged to fight this and ultimately “embarrass” my disease.

Now, it will be two and a half years since my diagnosis. I have had 51 rounds of chemo, 10 rounds of radiation therapy, and three surgeries. I believe changing my diet and my attitude helped me keep fighting the disease and manage the stress. I am extremely fortunate that my body is strong and can get through the treatment.

What are you doing to raise awareness of this disease?

In 2011, I started a foundation called The WunderGlo Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to support research and treatment by hosting fundraising events; promote (at the fundraisers as well as on our website) living a healthy lifestyle by eating right, exercising and staying positive; and finally to connect with patients and answer their questions and concerns as well as serve as a support system for them.

From the foundation, I later launched The Wunder Project. All of the money raised will go to research to support finding a cure for colon cancer. The goal of the project is to raise $250 million in the next two years.

With the foundation and project, people will hopefully become aware of who we are and raise awareness about colon cancer. What’s more, our donors, sponsors and followers will know we are doing more than just raising awareness – we’re working to omit the disease. Unfortunately, there is a complete lack of funding research within the industry. I have no doubt that we will find a cure. So far, The WunderGlo Foundation has held events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Durham, NC to spread awareness and raise money for research.  

Exact Sciences: WonderGlo.com is the name of your blog. What does that mean?

Gloria Borges: WunderGlo was taken out of an “allusion” for the term wunderkind – referring to a child prodigy, or someone very successful in their field despite being young. Now, “Glo” is the young person who is successful in her field and is now all about beating cancer. Therefore, throughout my journey of defeating my cancer I am referred to as “WunderGlo.” I also chose this name as a way to honor my oncologist; he’s a pretty funny guy!

I started the blog in October, 2010 as a way to keep my friends and family up-to-date on my treatment process, how I’m doing, and the progress I’m making. Aside from my family, the blog has also benefited other readers. For example, I heard from four friends who are all women between the ages of 28 and 32 who had noticed something was different about their bodies and their GI health.

Because of my motivating words and personal experiences shared through my blog, they urged their doctors to do a colonoscopy. Each woman found pre-cancerous polyps. Sharing my story with others in such great depth has helped these woman and others.

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

You need to be aware of your body and changes in your body, especially when it comes to GI health. Your GI function is a reflection of your overall health from the effectiveness of your liver and kidneys.

Becoming aware of changes or problems is essential, especially if you have a genetic history of polyps and colon cancer. If you notice something abnormal and catch pre-cancerous polyps at an early stage, it is the ultimate way to beat this disease. 

What are your thoughts on what Exact Sciences is trying to accomplish?

It sounds like it could be fantastic. If you can know before a colonoscopy if you have pre-cancerous polyps, it would be a huge breakthrough for people. Even if they do not test positive for pre-cancerous or cancerous polyps, this test could give them the opportunity to know that as well.

Lastly, what is one thing that you would like people to take away from your story?

The most important thing I want people to know is to approach life with a positive attitude and to believe in yourself and your physician. Nobody has a guaranteed time on earth. Life isn’t just or unjust. If we approach life with gratitude and we have what we have, then life is going to be more satisfying and joyful.

The past two and a half years have been the most fun I have ever had. I see life so differently now and enjoy the beauty of it. 

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