Young survivor spreads colon cancer awareness
Danielle Ripley-Burgess knows firsthand about March’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. As a two-time colorectal cancer survivor, she’s passionate about sharing her story – often telling poop jokes as a way to inform others about the condition.
“I share my story to try to prevent it happening to others,” she said. “I do try to see my experience as a gift God’s given me to share hope.”
Diagnosed as a teenager in 2001, Ripley-Burgess swapped her worries about algebra and high school theater for concerns about chemotherapy and radiation. After beating her stage III diagnosis, she graduated from college and started promoting awareness and acceptance of this disease. She is currently director of communications for the nonprofit advocacy organization Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC) and a member of the board of directors for The Colon Club.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer:
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- Blood in the stool
- Change in stool habits
- Gradual decrease in the size of the stool
- Increasing abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
"I majored in public relations so I could one day work for a big cancer nonprofit. The fact that I now work for a colon cancer-focused nonprofit has surpassed my hopes and dreams. It's helped give me purpose and make sense of a rare diagnosis of colorectal cancer as a teen," Ripley-Burgess confided.
She was featured as Miss October in the 2009 edition of The Colondar, a calendar designed to raise awareness by focusing on individual cancer patients and their stories. "It was then I realized I'm not alone," said Ripley-Burgess. "I was diagnosed with my second occurrence just months after my calendar photo shoot at age 25, and I realized cancer would always be a part of my life." Ripley-Burgess went on to beat this diagnosis, too.
Turning 30 in style
She celebrated her 30th birthday this past year by coordinating the arrival of The Colossal Colon to Kansas City. The larger-than-life, 40-foot tunnel resembles a human intestine and provoked a variety of responses. "The kids loved it," she said. "At the very least, it raised quite a bit of awareness." Ripley-Burgess credits "CoCo," as she and many others call the display, for bringing many young cancer survivors together and helping build awareness.
Ripley-Burgess, her husband, Mike, and 3-year-old daughter, Mae, currently live in Kansas City, where she is a patient of genetic oncologist Larry Geier, MD. In addition to her work for Fight CRC and The Colon Club, Ripley-Burgess is also a contributor for several blogs, books and magazines.