What do you do on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at the beginning of spring in New York City, when the sun is shining brightly and the parks are bursting with early color? Why, you go to a dark, enclosed exercise facility to pedal a stationary bike for the relentless workout known as spinning, of course!
As the sweat trickled down my bald head, I pumped harder and faster as an enthusiastic instructor steadily cranked up the pace from warm-up to all-out. I was at a place called Flywheel on the Upper East Side, one of about 45 people, most of them women. Nearly all were dressed as if they had just come from the Tour de France, while I was in my weekend sweats. But we were all there for more than a good workout.
We were there for a cause. We were there to help beat cancer.
Colon cancer, to be specific. The event was organized by the indefatigable Katie Couric, who lost her husband, Jay Monahan, to colon cancer in 1998, when he was only 42. Katie has since devoted enormous time and effort to raising awareness of the life-saving value of screening for colon cancer, as well as raising a substantial amount of money for research and treatment.
Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men and women combined, trailing only lung cancer. It deserves all the attention Katie and others have given it.
The fight against colon cancer is very important to me. Nine years ago my friend and employer, fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo, called me into his office, ominously asking that I close the door. He had to tell me something important, something he didn't want anyone to know: he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Carmen had been feeling unwell and went to his doctor, who recommended a colonoscopy to check for gastrointestinal problems. The tiny camera peering inside his colon discovered a tumor the size of a lemon. He needed an operation right away.
I was stunned, but there wasn't time to be emotional...There was work to do: events to cancel and excuses to make until Carmen could undergo surgery. Two weeks later, doctors took the tumor out, and Carmen has made a full recovery. If he hadn't had that colonoscopy, the cancer could have grown, invaded other organs, and led to his death. Early detection likely saved his life.
Since then, Carmen has come out of the cancer closet and turned a lemon-sized tumor into lemonade. He has woven his survival story and his life as a fashion designer into a single powerful message. He's joined forces with Katie as an ambassador for the Entertainment Industry Foundation's National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA) to help make it fashionable to talk about colon cancer. From black-tie galas in New York to intimate luncheons in Greenville, South Carolina, from national TV shows to local radio and newspapers, Carmen gets on a soap box, encouraging the 40% of adults who have not been tested appropriately to talk to their doctors and schedule a colonoscopy. He is an inspiration.
That's why I jumped at the chance to participate in the spinning event, which was dedicated to spreading the word that every man or women over 50, and those with a family history of cancer or certain risk factors, should get screened. (Carmen was just 48 when his cancer was detected, and only later learned of a history of cancer on both sides of his family.)
Katie Couric was there with her beautiful daughters. Their dedication to this cause is not only a testament to their love for Jay, but to the countless people they have encouraged to get screened. Katie's helped demystify the procedure to try to ensure that others don't have to suffer the loss of a loved one.
Hoda Kotb of The Today Show and Rosanna Scotto of Good Day New York were also there. I am no slouch in the gym, but spinning in this roomful of personalities and exercise addicts was a humbling experience. Trading a little sweat to save people from the scourge of colon cancer through greater awareness seemed like a good bargain and a great way to kick off spring.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and it's rapidly coming to a close. Please consider donating whatever you can to the cause at http://bit.ly/nccra_spin. Your contribution will help the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance continue to spread the word about the life-saving value of screening, and fund research that could lead to new, less-invasive tests and more effective therapies.
And believe me, writing a check is a lot less work than an hour's worth of spinning!
Frank Pulice is Vice President of Communications at Carmen Marc Valvo.