About a thousand people and 50 plus dogs rose early on Saturday morning, March 24, to attend an unseasonably cold CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5K and Fun Walk — held for the first time at Durham’s Northgate Mall.
The spring freeze couldn’t crush the team spirit that rippled through the event, organized annually by the Duke Cancer Institute Gastrointestinal Cancer disease group for the past five years. More than $81,000 was raised by 45 teams to improve colorectal cancer treatments and raise awareness for prevention and early diagnosis. The event honored and celebrated those whose lives have been touched by colorectal cancer.
“Welcome everybody!” shouted Duke Cancer Institute executive director Michael Kastan, MD, PhD, to a crowd of families, friends, faculty, physicians, and staff — many of them suited up in multiple layers of Duke blue. “I’m sure everyone’s ready to start running and get warm! I want to thank Hope (Hope Uronis, MD) and the whole team for organizing this wonderful event! We’re here to CRUSH colorectal cancer! Colorectal cancer, which affected 130,000 Americans last year (newly diagnosed). Colorectal cancer, which killed 50,000 Americans last year. We’re here to change those numbers. Those numbers are improving, but they’re not improving fast enough.”
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. Of cancers that affect both men and women, it was the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Recent advances have significantly contributed to improving screening and treatment, and have resulted in a growing population of colorectal cancer survivors. Physicians advise that men and women, aged 50 and older, should be screened for colon cancer — earlier, if there is a family history of the disease.
Cross-Check Your Colon
Charlemagne Asekhuano, 40, rented a motorized 3-wheeler at the mall. He decorated it with his “Cross-Check Your Colon” team poster, and packed some snacks for the road. Still in recovery from his latest chemotherapy infusion a few days before, and with the morning’s cold weather “not helping,” he said just didn’t have the energy to do the 5K under his own steam. But he was in a good mood, nonetheless.
“If I turn this baby up I’m going to win!” Asekhuano half-joked with a runner zipping past him.
Asekhuano was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in February 2017 after he followed up with his doctor on gastrointestinal distress he thought was related to side-effects from a psoriasis medication he’d started three months before.
“There was no family history that we know of, but we don’t have my father’s side history,” said Asekhuano, a physical guy accustomed to moving and recycling heavy network equipment for his job at CISCO. “Luckily I’m in charge and have a crew of three guys to move things, so when I can’t do anything, they can.”
About 45 supporters — from CISCO, Asekhuano’s amateur hockey team, other friends, his wife Jackie, their six-year-old son Liam, their extended family, and Jackie’s co-workers — joined his Cross-Check Your Colon team. The name was created both to acknowledge Asekhauno’s love for hockey — he’s the goalie — and to raise awareness for getting a colonoscopy. The first-time team raised $3,260, the fifth highest team total for CRUSH this year.
“It’s been a year of questions, answers, more questions, radiation, chemo, tears, frustration, hope, and exhaustion, but it’s been amazing too,” wrote Asekhuano’s wife Jackie on her Facebook page, the text of which was included on Cross-Check Your Colon’s public team page. “The doctors at Duke Cancer Center and the support of family, friends, and colleagues has been amazing. I’m asking you, my amazing support group, to continue the fight against Colorectal Cancer by joining me in Duke Cancer Center’s 5th Annual CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5k Run/Walk. Liam and I will be walking and I’d love for you to join me. Or, if you have a few bucks to spare, consider donating to help fund research for a cure.”
Continuing The Fight
Fee Fighters!, a 50-person-strong team formed last year in support of Mary Beth Fee’s fight against colon cancer, was again the top CRUSH fundraiser. They raised $7,575. Fee, a wife, mom and friend “known for her kindness and generosity,” participated in last year’s CRUSH event, but passed away in December.
When the Fee Fighters! were announced as the winning team, screams erupted. An exuberant group of young boys rushed the stage. Among them were Mary Beth and Frank Fee’s two smiling boys, Callin and Ryan, who accepted, on behalf of the team, a blue marble trophy. Fee Fighters! team captain Frank invited his wife’s doctor Hope Uronis, MD, and physician assistant Margot O’Neill to join the group photo.
“Last year was better in terms of money raised, over $33,000 in 2017, but we’re also setting up an endowed memorial scholarship fund at UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan Flagler Business School and we have a couple of other things going on through our church and the boy’s school,” said Frank, whose late wife had attended UNC Chapel Hill as an undergraduate and graduate student. “A number of memorial contributions after she passed away went to Duke Cancer Institute and we are excited to support the CRUSH walk again this year. The care Mary Beth received at Duke was excellent and the doctors, nurses and staff there are really important to us. We are proud to support the fight against colorectal cancer by walking again, this time in Mary Beth’s memory.”
Cecum Seekers, a Duke Gastroenterology team captained by Anne-Marie Cotton, RN (with Duke GI Endoscopy), got a special participation award. More than 100 members-strong, plus over 50 dogs wearing specially crafted Cecum Seekers bandanas, stepped up to CRUSH colorectal cancer and raise $4,000. (The cecum is a small pouch connected to the junction of the small and large intestines.)
Angela Bowling, a marketing manager at Duke Stores and a four-year survivor of stage four colorectal cancer, was the top individual fundraiser; raising more than $1,205. Her team Bum-ble-Bees was participating for the fourth time at CRUSH.
“I hope to make it five next year !” Bowling said of both her survivorship goal and her plan to do CRUSH once again.
“We were delighted to see CRUSH 2018 bring together patients, families and caregivers to honor those we have lost to colorectal cancer and to support research that will benefit current and future patients,” said GI oncology physician assistant and CRUSH co-organizer Margot O’Neill, PA-C. “CRUSH 5K is truly a reflection of the strength and hope that embraces our patients and their families at Duke and in the Durham community. The atmosphere this year was a heartwarming experience for everyone involved.”
Circle photo (top): Callin Fee (center) celebrates with his teammates the Fee Fighters! being named top fundraising team for CRUSH 2018. The team was formed last year to support his mother's fight against colon cancer. Hope Uronis, MD, and Margot O'Neill, PA-C (at back center and right), who treated Callin's late mother, were invited to join the photo.