After being told she was a stressed-out college student with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and constipation for over six months, Molly McMaster Morgoslepov was finally diagnosed with colon cancer on February 19, 1999, her 23rd birthday. Her surgeon told her she was the “only one in the country to be diagnosed so young – maybe even the world.”
Molly was angry and felt alone with a diagnosis she believed was mostly reserved for older men, so she decided to do something about it. In the summer of 2000, less than a year after finishing chemotherapy, Molly inline skated from New York to Colorado where she had been going to school when her symptoms began to raise awareness of a disease no one seemed to want to talk about. The journey, dubbed Rolling to Recovery, raised over $60,000 and educated people across the country that colon cancer could happen to anyone.
Before Molly’s departure for Rolling to Recovery, a young woman reached out via email. “My name is Amanda Sherwood Roberts, and I was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 24,” she said. In an instant, Molly had a sister. She and Amanda began an online friendship that continued while Molly skated and for another year and a half before Amanda nominated Molly to carry the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Torch.
In November of 2001, Molly flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, to meet Amanda in person for the first time. She knew her friend was already very sick and not expected to live much longer. While there, Molly made a promise to Amanda to continue raising awareness of colon cancer. A week after meeting, they appeared with Katie Couric on the “Today” show to tell the world that anyone can get colorectal cancer at any age. After the interview, Katie Couric told Molly that if she could come up with “something crazy” for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, the “Today” show would cover it. Molly’s wheels began to turn.
The following month, Molly ran with the Olympic Torch in honor of her friend. Amanda died just 2 days later, on January 1, 2002 at the age of 27. Molly was angry, sad, and confused; but she turned those emotions into inspiration. She decided to build giant colon to educate the public in memory of Amanda.
Built by Adirondack Studios, the Colossal Colon®, or “Coco,” as she is affectionately known, is a 40-foot long, 4-foot tall crawl-through model of the human colon, complete with examples of healthy colon tissue, various diseases of the colon, polyps, and various stages of colorectal cancer. Katie Couric kept her word, hosting the Colossal Colon® on the “Today” show in the middle of Rockefeller Center Plaza in New York City.
In 2003, Molly joined the Colossal Colon on a twenty-city national tour, educating to the tune of 2.3 billion. CoCo made headlines in such places as Playboy magazine, Yahoo’s top ten, Dave Barry’s syndicated column, The Daily Show, Huell Howser, Jimmy Kimmel, and countless other news outlets, magazines, radio stations and papers across the country.
Early during the tour, Molly and Amanda’s cousin, Hannah, decided it was time to start an organization dedicated to raising awareness of colorectal cancer, especially in young people, in out-of-the-box ways. This led to The Colon Club. Even the name was purposeful, forcing people to say the word colon out loud.
As the Colossal Colon tour wound down, in Philadelphia a young woman named Erika Kratzer walked through the doors and introduced herself as a stage IV survivor, diagnosed at the age of 22. She had driven three hours just to meet Molly. The young women talked about their diseases and Molly and Hannah explained that they had just recently started The Colon Club and were planning “crazy things” to raise awareness. “We should do a calendar,” Erika said. “We can show our surgical scars and tell our stories.”
The following summer, Molly, Hannah and Erika found 10 other young survivors of colorectal cancer and brought them together in upstate New York to shoot photos for the first Colondar, a calendar of young people all diagnosed under the age of 50. Without realizing what they were doing, they had created the very first support group for early onset colorectal cancer.
A year later, The Colon Club put out another “crazy project” when the UHL Cross-Checked Colon Cancer. Molly joined the ranks of only a handful of elite female ice hockey players, playing a shift with each of the 14 teams in the United Hockey League, a men’s professional league, to raise awareness for colon cancer. Once again, The Colon Club put colons where they didn’t belong.
Today, and after traveling across the U.S. and Canada for over 13 years, the Colossal Colon has found its forever home in The Houston Health Museum. Visitors can still crawl through or look through windows of the Colossal Colon® to see Crohn’s disease, diverticulosis, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, cancerous and non-cancerous polyps, and various stages of colon cancer. Inspired by CoCo, today blow up colons can be found all over the world!
After ten years, the Colondar was transformed into a full-color magazine called “On the Rise”, referring to the rise in young people diagnosed under the age of 50. Survivors still come together for a long-weekend retreat, photo shoot, and are empowered to make their own ripples in the colorectal cancer world. Today, the number of survivors who have posed for the Colondar and on “On the Rise” is in the hundreds, and the army continues to grow.
On the last day of Rolling to Recovery, a young man signed in on Molly’s guestbook, which would later become the first online forum for colorectal cancer support – Colon Talk.
“Molly, one drop of rain ripples an entire pond,” he told her. “You’ll never know the lives you’ve touched.” The Colon Club has continued to raise awareness worldwide and empower survivors to share their stories and use their voices in hopes that a day will come when no one is afraid to talk about colorectal cancer anymore.
If you would like to read more about Molly and the phenomenal history of The Colon Club, please click here to purchase One Drop of Rain: Creating a Wave of Colon Cancer Awareness. A portion of the sale of every book goes to The Colon Club to help further its mission to educate people about colorectal cancer in out-of-the-box-ways.