Rotary Run: Creating awareness for early detection

Early detection. So far, it is the best solution to thwart colon cancer — before the polyps turn cancerous.

That is the message of many town criers throughout the month of March, who are also mobilizing insurance coverage of screening, legislative reforms, and raising money for research and treatment by partnering with the Mercer Island Rotary Half Marathon on March 22.

Personal experiences with this second leading cancer killer have moved scores of local activists to join with public health agencies to form Washington Colon Cancer STARS. They kicked off a nationwide “Dress In Blue” awareness campaign on March 6; lobbied for a new law recently passed in Washington to mandate insurance coverage for colorectal screening; partnered with Bartell’s to put screening guidelines on all prescriptions in the month of March; and are organizing teams to run or walk in the Mercer Island runs to benefit colon cancer prevention on March 22.

In tandem, Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, which provides spiritual support for those with cancer and their caretakers, has rallied 40-some prayer-shawl knitters for a 5 p.m. service on Sunday, March 22. This “Knit, Pray, Love” service is open to the community and anyone with cancer or their caretakers who might want prayer shawls to provide comfort.

Tom Lindquist, an Islander and the brother of the late Susie Lindquist Mjelde, inspired the Mercer Island Rotary Club in memory of his sister to dedicate the marathon to colon cancer prevention. He supports the MI Presbyterian Church’s Cancer Ministries and will offer a ministry highlight at the March 15 service.

Last year, the nonprofit corporation STARS spun off from the Colorectal Cancer Task Force that formed in 2001. STARS networks with more than 13 public agencies and nonprofits, including Washington state, Seattle and King County Health Departments, and is part of the Comprehensive Cancer Control Partnership.

The group hopes to reduce colon cancer mortality by ramping up the scope and quality of screening — even to uninsured people on limited incomes, says Ellen Phillips-Angeles, of Seattle. She chairs the statewide task force and its nonprofit STARS organization, and is a program manager at Seattle & King County Public Health, where a smaller demonstration program provided colorectal screening for 2,000 uninsured people on low incomes.

“The demonstration project was a terrific success,” said Phillips-Angeles, who is now seeking grants and funding to expand this effort. “In King County, about 65 percent of insured people have been screened, and only 26 percent of uninsured people. Knowing that at least half the cases of colorectal cancer could be prevented by screening, we have a great opportunity to save lives.”

Anita Mitchell, of West Seattle, is a stage-four colon cancer survivor who was diagnosed in her 40s and is a co-founder of STARS.

“I learned of my colon cancer well before the age of 50, when routine screening is recommended. But I had a family history of colon cancer, which adds risk,” said Mitchell. “I want everyone to be screened in time to either prevent the cancer from developing or detect it at an earlier, more treatable stage.”

Mitchell will entreat her health care associates, friends, school kids, fellow patients, survivors and those who wish to honor lost loved ones to join the STARS teams in the March 22 run/walk. She is aiming for 50 on her team, but 500 or more are welcome, she added. Mitchell is also responsible for implementing “Dress in Blue for Colon Cancer Awareness Day” on March 6 in honor of her friend and co-founder Carmen Mitchell, who died of the disease.

Other STARS work other angles. Jamie Jo McInerney, of Issaquah, helps MI Rotary organize teams for the runs and walks on March 22. The goal is to double their number from last year, from 35 teams of 245 people to at least 70 teams and 500 people from the corporate, health care, neighborhood, school or work worlds and others who wish to honor a loved one.

“Ask me why I’m ‘Blue,’” says McInerney, of the color that represents colon cancer awareness. “Because this is the one cancer that is totally preventable and treatable if you get a colonoscopy every five to 10 years after age 50 — or earlier if you have a family history. So many avoid this.”

Laura Lovera, of Lynnwood, is the STARS treasurer and assistant VP for Washington Trust Bank, and also has a family history of colon cancer. She helps people get to their screening and therapy appointments, and provides advocacy and support for them.

Ann Stephens, the president of Colon STARS, learned of her colon cancer after a routine colonoscopy in 2005. “After surgery and chemo, there’s no evidence of it now. But, I waited until age 55 to have my colonoscopy. If I had had it at 50, the polyp would have been caught before it became cancerous. That’s why I’m a colon cancer activist now. My first Rotary run was in 2006, when my oncologist, my husband and I walked to show support.”

Learn more about the Rotary runs or form teams at; learn about public health colorectal screening at 1-800-756-5437.

Team Captains: Create your team online — click on “Team Captains” and follow instructions. Then return to the registration page, click “Register Now,” and select the category and team name from the drop-down menu. Team Members: Click on “Register Now,” select your event category; select your team name from the drop down box on the registration form

Answers to frequently asked questions: — about T-shirts, timing, routes, parking, booths and activities, water en route, marshals, etc.

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