Colorectal Cancer Awareness

Why Colorectal Cancer Awareness Is Important 
Wendi Hawkins, Cornell employee, shares her story

Colorectal cancer awareness and screening are topics I’ve developed a passion for. It was an issue that I didn’t know much about until it entered my family’s life in December of 2017.  At that time my husband, Todd, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer after several months of unexplained weight loss and a change to his daily bowel habits led him to visit his doctor. He was 5 months shy of his 50th birthday, the recommended age to begin colon cancer screening at that time. 

Over the next 16 months he would fight. Hard. He went through 22 rounds of chemotherapy, 5 biliary stent procedures, 4 hospitalizations coupled with 6 straight weeks of daily antibiotic infusions, and 5 trips to New York City for medical consults. He fought with dignity and grace, managing to remain positive and full of gratitude until he took his last breath in the early morning hours of April 24, 2019, surrounded by those he loved. 

By all accounts, this should not have happened to Todd at his age.   But sadly, the occurrence of young-onset (below the age of 50) colorectal cancer is on the rise. Today, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. It is estimated that in 2021, more than 150,000 people will be diagnosed, and more than 50,000 people will die from this disease.

What makes these facts all the more frustrating is that colorectal cancer is beatable in as much as 90% of cases when detected early. The most common diagnostic tool, the colonoscopy, can actually PREVENT the development of cancer by removing pre-cancerous polyps. Tragically, routine colorectal cancer screenings have declined significantly during COVID, so I am very grateful to the Cornell Wellness team for promoting these colorectal cancer screening resources.

Todd was very open about his cancer journey. Throughout, several people told him that they had talked to their doctors and sought screening after hearing of his circumstances, and he was truly moved by these stories. Because of this, one of the ways my daughters and I honor his memory is to tell his story, with the hope that it will inspire others to learn more, listen to your body, and seek screening.

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