Survivors & Staff Come Together to CRUSH Colorectal Cancer

March 12, 2018
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

Greenwood, South Carolina, native Tina Escalona, was young — only 45 years-old — when she was diagnosed with rectal cancer. The average age of diagnosis for women is 72 years old.

She didn’t have a family history of the disease and led a healthy and active lifestyle; playing competitive tennis, hiking, working out at the gym and chasing after two dogs and three cats on the 12-acre farm and homestead she shared with her husband — when she wasn’t criss-crossing the country for work. So, when faced with recurrent bleeding issues and even a recommendation by her doctor to get a colonoscopy, Escalona had put it off for nearly a year, thinking it was nothing serious, until her husband George insisted.

She was diagnosed with stage 2 rectal cancer and referred to Duke Cancer Institute surgeon Christopher Mantyh, MD, and medical oncologist David Hsu, MD, PhD, and underwent surgery on her 46th birthday. No chemotherapy or radiation treatment was needed, and she was declared NED (no evidence of disease) at her first follow-up. 

Rectal cancer survivor Tina Escalona (far right) is pictured, not too long ago, with her friends at a 5K. This year she’s going to lace up for the first time for the CRUSH Colorectal Cancer Run/Walk — supporting Duke Cancer Institute research, community outreach and education.On her five-year anniversary of being declared cancer free this past fall, Escalona marked the personal milestone by doing “something helpful” — sending a note to the director of a 2009 documentary on actress Farrah Fawcett’s battle with anal cancer, thanking him for raising awareness about early detection and treatments and for “bringing the harsh realities of the illness to the screen.” Anal cancer, like rectal cancer, she said, carries a kind of stigma that other cancers, like breast cancer, don’t. It made an impression.

Escalona has committed herself to helping raise awareness about colorectal cancer in her local community and beyond. Earlier this month she shared her personal experience publicly, and later in March she's participating for the first time in the annual Duke CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5K Run/Walk, to be held on Mar. 24.

Organized by the Duke Cancer Institute Multidisciplinary Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, the event is held in honor and celebration of those whose lives have been touched by colorectal cancer and to benefit colorectal cancer research at Duke and community outreach and education.

“Praying much good comes out of this!” said Escalona who signed on to fundraise with Team TushTush. “May this help others to receive life-giving, quality-of-life-enhancing treatment.”

Last year, CRUSH teams and their supporters broke records raising more than $100,000. Event organizers are challenging walkers and runners to make 2018 "even better." So far this year, nearly $50,000 has been raised.

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.

“The CRUSH event is a great way to come together as a community to support our patients, their loved ones, and each other as we try to raise awareness about colon cancer and the research that is needed to continue to improve treatments for this disease,” said medical oncologist Hope Uronis, MD, MHS, one of the event organizers.

Several Duke teams have registered, including: the Bum-ble-B’s captained by colon cancer survivor and Duke Stores manager Angela Bowling; Butt Blasters, led by DCI radiation oncologist Manisha Palta, MD; the GI-Clinical Trials team Partners with Painters in Awareness of CRC (PIA’s), captained by assistant research practice manager with the gastrointestinal cancer program Wanda Honeycutt; Saving Uranus, led by DCI physician assistant Margot O'Neill, MHS, PA-C; WOC Nurses Crush CRC, captained by DCI nurse Stephanie Yates MSN, ANP-BC, CWOCN; and Team TushTush, led by 11-year colon cancer survivor and DCI IT analyst Erin Wood. Duke Cancer Institute invites patients, caregivers, survivors, and their supporters to join a team, form their own team, or register as an individual.

The 2018 Duke CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5K Run/Walk, now in its fifth year, will be held on Saturday, March 24, at Northgate Mall in Durham. Registration opens at 6:45 a.m. Team photos at the colon start at 7:15 a.m. with costumes and props welcomed adn encouraged. A kids activity area opens at 7:30 a.m. An official welcome by director of Duke Cancer Institute Michael Kastan, MD, PhD, emcee and survivor Ryan Switzer, and Herbert Hurwitz, MD, begins a few minutes before the run/walk official start-time of 8 a.m. The event includes a block party with a DJ and food trucks.

CIRCLE PHOTO (TOP) & VIDEO: Duke Cancer Institute staff from IT, Genitourinary Oncology, and Cancer Control & Population Sciences are wearing blue in honor of those battling colorectal cancer. They invite you to CRUSH colorectal cancer at the 5k walk/run on Saturday, March 24, to be held at Northgate Mall in Durham. Erin Wood, holding the sign, is an 11-year colon cancer survivor.