Mediaplanet: You’ve been a social advocate for colon cancer awareness for a number of years now. Can you tell us how colon cancer has affected you personally?
Emmanuelle Chriqui: My mother had colon cancer. It wasn’t her primary form of cancer, but the colon cancer is the part that I remember the most — only because she had a colostomy procedure. She lived with the pouch for five years. It was such a rotten thing. Everything in your system gets re-wired so to speak, and it’s not an easy adjustment. Obviously for the person who’s going through it, but also for the people living around it.
So my mom was with the colostomy pouch for five years and then she got sick again. It was pretty awful to see. She was a fighter, but she suffered a lot. I had a hard time grasping the amount of suffering that was attached to her colon cancer. She passed away when I was 16, so my mom was sick for most of my growing up.
And then much, much later, my father got colorectal cancer. He too had a colostomy and had to live with a pouch for about three years. And my poor dad, he just hated it. I don’t think he ever got used to it. He passed away four years ago.
MP: Did these experiences contribute to your desire to raise awareness about colon cancer?
EC: Yes, absolutely. It was a very organic decision for me, seeing as how both my parents suffered from colon cancer. I’m from Canada, but I haven’t lived in Canada for almost 16 years. So it was a very specific decision for me to want to be part of a Canadian organization that works to raise awareness about colon cancer — in memory of my parents.
MP: You’re right — colon cancer is preventable in 90 percent of cases. How do you convince people to take that essential step of getting screened?
“By removing the shame attached to colon cancer and getting people to make their health a priority.”
EC: By removing the shame attached to colon cancer and getting people to make their health a priority. The biggest thing that I always say — and this is probably because I’m somebody who’s lived through both my parents dying from colon cancer — is that people need to be more proactive about taking their health into their own hands. You need to have awareness about your own health — especially if you have a dicey family history. And you know what? It’s super empowering to take your health into your own hands. It’s empowering and it’s necessary. Cancer does not equal death anymore. We can beat it now.
MP: What kind of advice would you give to people in general who, at this point in their lives, are at risk for colorectal cancer, but haven’t taken steps to get screened?
EC: My advice is to look at your family history and take a proactive approach to your health. Make healthy choices — healthy lifestyle choices. We live in crazy times, but we also live in really exciting times. It’s possible to live healthily and to make conscious choices about what you put in your body. I think that making healthy lifestyle choices is really important, and they become more important as you get older.