NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Pamela Stephens is here today because of a colon cancer screening.
“I was really scared to get that procedure done and so I did wait, probably a year or two and then after that, I was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.”
That was 18 years ago.
“I had to go to my children and watch my children cry when I told them and that’s hard to do,” she said.
Tuesday morning, Stephens attended an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network forum at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, focused on saving more people like her.
“The disparity in our community still exists,” said Dr. Bruce Waldholtz, a local gastroenterologist and national board member of the American Cancer Society.
The ACS estimated more than 3,600 Virginians will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year and more than 1,300 will die from it.
Dr. Waldholtz said Hampton Roads is a hot spot for colon cancer based on an ACS study published in 2015. “
The three hot spots were Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and Hampton Roads and North East North Carolina,” he said. The reason Hampton Roads ranked, he told 10 On Your Side, involves poverty and access to care. That includes things like, insurance, and transportation.
He says the plan to help eliminate the disparities is to train community partners such as churches, barber shops and the urban league to become community health advocates.
“We did this in Portsmouth about 15 years ago and it worked,” he said.
That effort involved breast cancer and women talking to other women about the importance of mammograms. This time, it’ll be colon cancer.
“This will work. In fact, we can sort of make it fun and talk about different football teams. We have a huge partnership wit the NFL to get the men involved, ” he said.
Stephens left inspired to spread the word and encourages others to join her.
“Grab a hand, grab a friend a family member and say ‘hey, I gotta do it, not just for me, but for my children,'” she said.
The medical experts on hand also talked about the need to change laws and make FIT testing more available.
FIT is an at-home alternative to a colonoscopy. Medical experts say the stool test can save lives and make it easier for those with barriers such as lack of or limited transportation and insurance to get one done.