It’s a cancer that’s on the rise in young adults, but doctors aren’t sure why since age is a major risk factor for colon cancer. Raising awareness that it could strike anyone has been the mission of a local woman for 20 years after she, herself, received the diagnosis at the age of 23. Her just published book is the latest chapter in a campaign that’s taken her across the country and back home again.
We first met Molly McMaster Morgoslepov as she crushed the obstacles at Saratoga Ninja Lab.
She’s a partner in the gym, continuing the active life she had as a college hockey player in Colorado.
That’s where she became ill with all the classic symptoms of colon cancer, but her age threw off the doctor. Molly recalled hearing, “You’re constipated, you have irritable bowel syndrome, you have spastic colon; I think she told me at one point.”
Unable to work or play hockey, she came home. Within 24 hours of driving home, she was in the emergency room and undergoing emergency surgery the day after that. Doctors removed two large tumors along with 25 inches of large intestine, but she didn’t grasp the gravity of the diagnosis.
“I spent nine days in the hospital after surgery, and I still didn’t get it,” Molly said. “Yeah, I had surgery, but I’m going to Florida next week doc, make sure I get on that plane. He finally came in on my 23rd birthday and said ‘you have colon cancer,’ and I remember thinking I’m going to die.”
One phone call from a friend changed those dark thoughts.
“Wow colon cancer, that sucks,” he told Molly. “And I was like, yup, yes it does. And he said, ‘You know what? You’re Molly. You’re going to beat it because you’re strong.’ And that kind of set the stage for me to do crazy things to raise awareness and prove you don’t have to be a 50-year-old white male to get this disease. Anyone is at risk for colon cancer.”
First up? Skating across the country from the Capital Region to Colorado, back to where it started. And along the way meeting someone just like her.
“Her name was Amanda Sherwood Roberts. She was diagnosed when she was 24, and just like that, I had a sister,” Molly said. “Someone else knew what I was going through, and that was pretty incredible.”
Amanda nominated Molly to carry the Olympic torch. Two days after she did that, Amanda passed away at the age of 27, leaving two small children. Molly promised her she would continue raising awareness of the disease for both of them and that’s how the Colossal Colon ended up on a 20 city tour and on “Jimmy Kimmel.”
“As we were finishing up the tour almost a year later, I met a young woman, another young woman who had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 22, and it was the same reaction; my jaw hit the floor and I said we have to do more. We have to do more because it’s still happening.”
So she brought together 12 colon cancer survivors for the first Colonder. They held the photo shoot at her parents’ house and shared their stories – and their scars.
Fifteen years later, the Colonder is now a magazine giving a greater voice to their mission and taking its name, On The Rise, from the increase in colon cancer among young adults.
Molly shared, “It’s kind of cool I still get to go to the photo shoots. We don’t do it at my parents’ house anymore.” NEWS10 ABC anchor Lydia Kulbida pointed out, “You’ve grown.”
And then there was the year Molly spent the entire month of March, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, playing hockey with every team in the UHL. She also handed out 80,000 player cards featuring survivors photos and colon cancer symptoms. She says she never found a single one left on the floor of the arenas.
Last month was her 43rd birthday and her 20-year colon cancer anniversary, but for the first time, Molly wasn’t sad.
She released the book that’s taken 20 years to write, “One Drop of Rain: Creating a Wave of Colon Cancer Awareness,” as a gift to herself.
“It turns out it’s about so much more than colon cancer. It’s about beating the odds; it’s about starting this ripple effect, if you will, that’s going to this day, and kind of about how one person can make a difference.”
As an athlete, Molly knows the best defense is a good offense, and when it comes to colon cancer, that means getting screened.
Check the links to find your risk factors as well as symptoms and use this infographic from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: