While 76-year-old Warwick resident Barbara Joyce is proud she recently received a Volunteer of the Year award from the Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA), she is more concerned with raising awareness about the disease.
As survivor of colon and breast cancer, Joyce is the chairperson of the board and state coordinator of the Voices of Rhode Island, a local chapter of the CCA.
Joyce serves as a “Buddy” to other individuals living with or recovering from colon cancer. As a Buddy, she offers support and helps patients deal with side effects, treatment options and the emotional impact. In her quest, she hopes more people get tested for colon cancer.
“It’s the silent killer,” she said. “The number one symptom is that there are no symptoms. It’s weird and it’s scary.”
Joyce, who founded Voices of Rhode Island and is also a member of the Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island, believes many people resist getting tested because they don’t have insurance. Further, she thinks people who are underinsured avoid being examined for fear of large co-pays.
“It’s sad,” she said. “They also don’t get checked because they don’t like the dreaded prep. They don’t want to drink the ‘goo-goo-gop’ to clean out the colon totally. If they don’t clean out the colon, the doctor could miss something because the polyps can be small. If they would do that, the doctor can snip the polyp. It’s so important to get tested.”
To assist those in need, a group of local gastroenterologists, internists and administrators led by Warwick physician Dr. Joseph DiMasse recently formed a program run by the state called Screening Colonoscopy for the Underserved Population (SCUP). They provide free screenings to Rhode Island patients between 50 and 64 who do not have health insurance. Kent Hospital is part of that group.
Joyce is glad to see some progress but still worries that people do not consider getting tested until after age 50. Many members of her support group were younger when their colon cancer was first detected.
Joyce’s group consists of more than 20 members. They meet for an hour and a half the first Tuesday of every month at the Warwick Public Library at 7 p.m.
The latest meeting is tonight.
“If anyone would like to be a speaker at our group, we’d be very happy to have you,” said Joyce. “If you have a story to tell or any information on any cancer products, you are welcome to come.”
She said they don’t only share their experiences as survivors. Rather, they also focus on sharing their knowledge about treating and eradicating the disease.
“Three years ago, we started getting some more members and we said, ‘We just can’t sit around and talk. We’ve got to do something. Let’s have a walk,’” Joyce said. “The first walk turned out to be very successful, and we are looking forward to the next one.”
The third annual walk will be held Aug. 7 at City Park in Warwick. Registration starts at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m. Individuals or teams can register online at www.ccalliance.orgRI or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a $10 entry fee to register on or before July 20; the rate afterwards is $15.
T-shirts will be given to walkers and runners while supplies last.
For a friendly foot race, the North Providence Police Department has challenged all police departments in the state to send the fastest runner to the walk. The winner will receive a plaque from the CCA. Joyce and her group then challenged the departments to raise money for the cause.
“The one who raises the most will get a plaque for their department,” she said.
Event sponsors include Genentech, Inc., a California biotechnology company that makes Avastin, a controversial cancer drug.
“They recently sent us a $3,000 grant,” said Joyce. “It’s the biggest one we’ve gotten.”
Other sponsors are CVS, who donated $500; Herff Jones, as well as Sertex, who contributed $250 respectively; Whole Foods, who presented the CCA with a $100 gift certificate; and Texas Roadhouse, who donated certificates valid for four dinners for two.
At the walk, water will be provided by Pepsi Cola; popcorn will be courtesy of Nettie’s Kettle Corn; while local businesses like Rocky Point Pub will donate 30 pizzas; the Dunkin’ Donuts in Apponaug will give 10 dozen donuts and two urns of coffee; and Roch’s Market will contribute bananas. Electric Boat donated $500 and promised to match donations made by their employees.
Joyce is also grateful to Sari Mogol-Legge, owner of Mogol Media NetCasting, for helping spread the word about the walk.
“Any money we make, we spend on awareness,” said Joyce.
Joyce was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980 and developed colon cancer in 2003. After viewing a segment about the CCA on “The Today Show” in 2004, she decided to join a year later.
“I sent the alliance an e-mail and they called me back right away,” said Joyce.
Through the years, she has endured radiation treatments and chemotherapy.
While she said doctors have told her she would have to undergo chemotherapy for the rest of her life, she no longer does.
“Right now, I’m cancer free,” she said. “I just keep chugging along.”
To ward off her cancer, Joyce is on the Immune System Management (ISM) program out of Canada. In fact, her husband, Joseph, also subscribes, as he was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Joseph has had 17 blood transfusions since being diagnosed.
“It was real tough for him, but he’s doing good now,” she said. “He’s stronger. I thought I lost him at one point.”
Joyce wasn’t sure if she could make it to the national conference in Denver to receive her award, but Joseph recovered in time. To her delight, the CCA paid for her accommodations, including her flight.
Joined by Joyce Giarraputo, the secretary for Voices of Rhode Island, Joyce attended the national conference award reception, Family Matters: What Every Family Needs to Know About Colon Cancer, at the Marriott Hotel in Denver, Colo. on June 23.
The alliance presented awards to Joyce, as well as other colon cancer advocates, including Jeannie Moore of Scottsdale, Ariz., who received the Outstanding Service Award for her efforts of working with colon cancer. As one of the original founders of the CCA, she serves as a patient support manager and is responsible for overseeing the Buddy peer-to-peer program.
In a statement, Andrew Speigel, the CEO of the CCA, said, “This year’s awards recipients have played a key role in the success of the association and the expansion of our programs. Their passion and drive to bring greater awareness to this serious but preventable disease is unparalleled.”
At the ceremony, Joyce said she felt honored and humbled to be among the recipients.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. What am I doing here?’” she said. “I was surprised because the other people who won were very accomplished. I was keeping very good company.”
In addition to the CCA and the Voices of Rhode Island, Joyce said she believes her Catholic faith gives her hope. She is a parishioner at St. Kevin Church.
“God’s keeping me around for whatever reason.”
For more information about the Colon Cancer Alliance, visit ccalliance.org/RI.