National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is an annual observance that encourages patients, survivors, and caregivers to tell their stories, advocate for the prevention of colorectal cancer, and share information about the importance of early detection with others. Held in March every year, the event also provides an opportunity for gastroenterologists to show their support for colon cancer awareness, through either education or fundraising.
While bringing awareness to colon cancer is always important, it may be especially critical this year – COVID-19 has captivated the world’s attention and taken the spotlight off routine screening. In fact, colonoscopy rates plummeted by 70 percent in March and April of 2020, compared with the same time the year before, and they had not rebounded much by June.
While the number of colonoscopies waned, interest in medical information has not – and the majority of people are using the internet to find that information. In fact, two out of three adults in the United States regularly search the internet for health information and up to 45 percent use a mobile phone or tablet to manage their health. In other words, patients are clamoring for information about colon cancer and other health issues, and they are willing to use digital technology to engage with healthcare providers.
Supporting Colon Cancer Awareness Month Virtually
Many gastroenterologists wonder how to provide support while social distancing during the pandemic – old-fashioned fundraising events usually involved large crowds. Even established organizations, such as the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the Colon Cancer Coalition, American Cancer Society, and the group Fight Colorectal Cancer have had to recreate themselves to continue fundraising efforts safely. Fortunately, digital technology has created ways to attend events from afar with a cell phone or computer.
Get creative with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance
Crowds used to gather in cities all over the country to participate in the local “Walk to End Colon Cancer,” for example, hosted by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Since COVID-19 has made such large gatherings unsafe, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance created other ways to support colon cancer awareness. Their 1 in 24 fundraiser allows you to commit to raising $250 in 24 hours: you donate $10 to jumpstart your campaign then ask 24 friends to donate $10 each to your page by the end of the day, and share your success story on social media.
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is holding socially distance events, such as Drive-Thru Victory Laps where participants can decorate their cars and visit a drive-through location to pick up sponsor swag and information on colorectal cancer; survivors can pick up their 2021 Survivor Medal and those who raise a certain amount of money can score prizes.
You can also sponsor a smaller version of Walk to End Colon Cancer in your community, join a walk in your community, volunteer, or even use the Colorectal Cancer Alliance toolkit to create a fundraiser on your own website.
Do more from home or the office
The Colon Cancer Coalition offers a number of ways to get involved, including fundraising and volunteering. In any other year, volunteers would host a community fundraising event, fundraise as a participant, and even start their own signature event that would bring together hundreds or even thousands of participants. Like the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the Colon Cancer Coalition is downsizing and reconstructing their events to accommodate social distancing.
The Colon Cancer Coalition featured a “Safer at Home” blog series that include health and wellness resources, along with suggestions for books, movies, music, and more during the first few weeks of the pandemic, for example. Many of the Safer at Home blogs reminded patients that they could still receive care during the pandemic, and that it is always important to stay up on their routine screenings. Your practice could offer something similar on the clinic website. The Colon Cancer Coalition even offers fun backgrounds you can use on your Zoom or video calls with patients or video blogs for your practice website.
Climb mountains in your own back yard
The group Fight Colorectal Cancer works to end colorectal cancer by providing support to patients, helping to change federal and state legislation, and performing research or funding it. One of their biggest fundraisers, Climb for a Cure, has raised more than $430,000 to support colorectal cancer advocacy, patient education, and research in just five years. The fundraiser started with just 15 colorectal cancer survivors, advocates, caregivers and others who scaled mountains around the United States. Over the years, the event grew larger and more participants joined in.
The pandemic changed all that, though. Colorectal cancer survivors are often immunocompromised, so the threat of contracting COVID-19 made large gatherings unsafe for them and their families. In August of 2020, the Fight Colorectal Cancer organization created the Virtual Climb for a Cure 2020. This event challenged participants to hike near home, swim laps at a local pool, or climb stairs to raise money. They went digital by using apps to track steps, making training and preparation “toolkits” available online, offering software that sends nutrition and symptom management interventions 24/7 “on-demand” via SMS text, and putting printable signs on their website.
Create and host your own local virtual event
Bring attention to colorectal cancer in your own community by hosting a Colon Cancer Awareness Month virtual event. Create a virtual race in which participants can use their phone, Apple watch, Fitbits or other apps to track their progress as they walk, run, bike, or climb at any location and at their own pace, whether that be on a road, trail, or treadmill. Pledge funds to the colon cancer awareness organization of your choice.
Add Colon Cancer Awareness Month content to your practice or center website
Use your website to raise awareness by adding a Colon Cancer Awareness page. You can provide an all-in-one hub of information for your patients to support Colon Cancer Awareness. This guide is a great example of the colon cancer information to include.
Or, offer chat sessions in which participants can ask you or other gastroenterologists and nurses questions about colon cancer. Post videos and blogs that bring awareness to colorectal cancer. You may even add a special incentive offer to patients who schedule an appointment for a colonoscopy during the month of March.
Supporting colon cancer awareness has certainly changed over the years, and particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Showing virtual support can help you and your practice engage with more potential patients in your community and increase your colon cancer fundraising efforts.
Lynn Hetzler was a Medical Assistant for 20 years, working in hospitals, universities and medical laboratories, and has been a leading writer in the medical field for another 20 years. She specializes in creating informative and engaging medical content for readers of all levels, from patients to researchers and everyone in between.