Twenty years ago today, Lake George resident Molly McMaster (now Morgoslepov) was recovering from colon cancer at the startlingly young age of 23.
She decided to do wild things to get the word out about colon cancer screening — testing she dearly wished she’d had done when she experienced every symptom of colon cancer.
Locals probably still remember the Colossal Colon, one of her efforts. It was a 40-foot-long, 4-foot-tall crawl-through colon that was displayed for a month at Aviation Mall in Queensbury and then went on a nationwide tour.
It was one of her many out-of-the-box ideas to encourage cancer screening. Now she has written a book about the people she reached and the ways in which colon cancer screening changed as a result of her work.
“It’s like a legacy,” she said. “You never know what your actions will cause. I feel lucky that I get to see some of that.”
A research scientist who worked with her Colon Club later made it on the front of Time magazine for research he did on young people getting colon cancer.
Her hockey coach went to the doctor when he had commonly missed symptoms of colon cancer, and he insisted on a colonoscopy when the doctor said he was too young to need it. The doctor removed 23 polyps.
Her idea of a calendar featuring young cancer survivors — the Colonder — became an annual magazine filled with information that young people need after their diagnosis. Topics include sex with an ostomy “and other things young people care about,” she said.
“It used to be me in a room screaming, ‘Hey, go get screened!’” she said. “Now it’s 200 people.”
With her new book, Morgoslepov, who now lives in Wilton, said she’s hoping to get more people talking about what many people still consider the “embarrassing” disease of colon cancer.
The book, “One Drop of Rain: Creating a Wave of Colon Cancer Awareness,” is available on Amazon in paperback ($14.99) or as an e-book ($9.99).
Her first idea to raise awareness was an inline-skating marathon. She skated from Lake George to Colorado, a 71-day trip that included daily posts online and a weekly Post-Star column.
“People looked at me, at age 23, and their jaws dropped. They weren’t going to forget that,” she said.
Colorado was where she had been working as a skater and skating instructor when the colon cancer nearly killed her.
It’s a quiet killer. She had blood in her stool just once. She called her doctor, who said it was probably just hemorrhoids. She scheduled an appointment, but canceled it because the blood went away the next day. Then she began to lose weight and had abdominal pain, but doctors thought she was constipated.
“There was never any testing done beyond that, because I was so young,” she said.
The pain got worse and worse. She called in sick from work so often that the ice rink fired her, and then she drove home to Lake George. It was only after she got home and went to the emergency room that she learned she had colon cancer.
The next day, a surgeon removed 25 inches of large intestine and a tumor the size of two fists.
The tumor had probably been growing for 10 years, she was told.
After she recovered, she decided to tell as many people as possible that colon cancer happens to young people. She wanted them to know the symptoms so they would get tested sooner.
There has been an increase in young people diagnosed with colon cancer in the past 20 years, probably due to more testing. But it is still rare.
According to Dr. Thomas Weber, who has studied early-age colorectal cancer, of the 145,000 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States every year, only 11,000 to 12,000 are younger than 50.
Colon cancer usually grows slowly, but that allows it to be ignored until it is too late.
After Morgoslepov skated for 71 days to raise awareness, she decided it wasn’t enough. Soon, she had the idea for the Colossal Colon, a model of a colon big enough to crawl through.
“It was a great way to get people to talk about colons,” she said. “People would walk by and make snide remarks and I would laugh. Because the joke’s on you — you’re going to go home and at the dinner table, you’ll be talking about the giant colon you saw today and you’ll be talking about colon cancer.”
Now it is permanently housed in the Health Museum in Houston, Texas.
Morgoslepov’s children, ages 10 and 12, want to go see it. She has been reading them her book, chapter by chapter, and described their reactions. Although they are young, they already understand the importance of getting screened if they have any colon cancer symptoms. When she read them the part of the book where the blood in her stool stopped so she canceled her doctor appointment, her older son gasped.
“Mom!” he said. “You shouldn’t have done that. You could have died!”