By PAUL MARYNIAK
The news of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Bozeman’s death last month stunned Jennifer Ruddle.
“I thought it was a hoax,” recalled the Chandler woman, the 2020 Mrs. Arizona who also made the top 12 for the national title. “He was a superhero. He always seemed so strong and healthy.”
Then, Ruddle added: “But so did I.”
It was the cause of Chadwick’s death at age 43 that unnerved her.
Chadwick died of colon cancer – a disease that Ruddle, 44, has been fighting for three years.
“His story is similar to mine,” Ruddlee said. “Mr. Boseman was diagnosed the year before me, at stage III. I was diagnosed at stage IV. And he was four months younger than me. So, his odds of beating this disease were better than mine.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths – even though it is 90 percent preventable.
Researchers said people often are embarrassed to seek a screening, contributing to higher rates of the cancer.
In Ruddle’s case, embarrassment didn’t occur until after she had been diagnosed.
“I also didn’t share my diagnosis publicly for the first two years,” she recalled. “I was scared and embarrassed. And I didn’t want people to look at me differently.”
News of Bozeman’s death prompted her to remark, “You can’t help but think ‘Why him?’ or ‘If he couldn’t beat it, how can I?’”
It also provoked some frustration.
“That’s the scary thing about this disease –it affects everyone differently,” she said. “Treatment that works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else. You can’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. There’s definitely more work to do in education, awareness and research.”
And that’s precisely why Ruddle partially uses her Mrs. America cache as a member of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the nation’s leading nonprofit dedicated to colorectal cancer.
“We empower a nation of allies who work with us to provide genuine support for patients and families, caregivers, and survivors; to raise awareness of preventive measures; and inspire efforts to fund critical research,” she said.
She feels “united in our fierce determination to dramatically impact the way society sees this devastating disease” and said the alliance wants “We exist to end colorectal cancer in our lifetime.”
A native of New York, Ruddle lived in Phoenix for 30 years before moving last year to Chandler with her husband of 17 years, Brian.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in arts and performance from the University of Arizona.
While she works with the alliance to defeat colon cancer, her personal battle against the disease is not over.
She is still not in remission and recently underwent 10 days of radiation to her lungs, where the cancer metastasized.
“I’ll have a CT scan later this month and am hoping to be in remission at that time,” she said.
Ruddle’s work with the alliance has her on the Never Too Young Advisory Board, which is “committed to learning more and providing support for those under 50 currently in their fight.”
And despite her own battle, she remains optimistic, stating, “Together, we are defying and redefining the odds. We are changing the face of this disease.”