SPRINGFIELD – During the month of March, Western Massachusetts was lit up blue with the help of sisters Kimberly Schoolcraft and Karen Fogarty. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and, after losing her life partner to the disease, Schoolcraft became dedicated to spreading awareness of colorectal cancer along with her twin.
Throughout the month, buildings across the nation are lit up blue in the Blue For CRC campaign. Schoolcraft and Fogarty worked to get Springfield’s Union Station and the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club lit up locally. The sisters also distributed over 60 yard signs and blue light bulbs to houses to spread awareness of the disease and the importance of screening.
Each yard sign had the message “Over 45 years old? Get screened!” which Schoolcraft said is important for younger people to know.
“The American Cancer Society just recently dropped their recommendation down to 45 to start screening instead of 50 years old,” she said. “What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is a rise in individuals who are under 50 years old. If you were born in the 1990s you actually have twice the chance of getting colon cancer and four times the chance of getting rectal cancer than if you were a person born in the 1950s.”
Schoolcraft and Fogarty also handed out information pamphlets to churchgoers of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Westfield during their drive-thru fish dinner for Lent.
The sisters were even able to secure proclamations from Mayor Don Humason in the city of Westfield and Mayor Domenic Sarno in the city of Springfield to help raise awareness.
Schoolcraft said that she and her sister only came up with the idea of yard signs in mid-February.
“We were able, fortunately, to pull it off together and get everything done. We had great resources in Mayor Sarno’s Office, they were wonderful to work with, to get local support to help pay for the signs and get the signs made. So that was a blessing and it kind of came together quickly,” she said.
The sisters also participated in a virtual Call on Congress meeting that the Fight Colorectal Cancer Organization hosts annually. Both Schoolcraft and Fogarty usually go to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives, tell their story and advocate in person, but this wasn’t possible due to the pandemic.
“We’re not able to do that this year and actually go down to D.C., but they’re doing it virtually so we did attend the kick-off meeting and we’re going to have meetings through June,” said Schoolcraft.
Schoolcraft and her sister have been involved in the fight against colorectal cancer since 2018 after Schoolcraft lost her partner Andy to the disease. He passed away in Aug. 2017.
“He was diagnosed in March of 2014. He was 47 years old when he was diagnosed. He was the most healthy person that any of us knew. He was on a pedestal as far as health and active lifestyle went,” she said. “He was in the gym Monday through Friday and on the weekends he was skiing or mountain biking. So it came as a huge shock when he was diagnosed and to be diagnosed with a metastatic disease at that, stage IV.”
Since his passing, the sisters have been leading this effort to educate local residents on the importance of colorectal cancer screening and to show support for patients, survivors, and caregivers.
“We’re really pushing for people themselves and doctors to understand what the symptoms are and realize that this is a real possibility for people under 50 years old and that the perception of this being an older man’s disease is really not the case anymore,” said Schoolcraft.
With the month of March closed, Schoolcraft said she hopes residents will take away at least one important message.
“Know the symptoms and get screened,” she said.
Those interested in learning more about colorectal cancer and the fight against the disease are encouraged to visit FightCRC.org