Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada - CCAC

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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.

The creative and interesting giant colon

by Tom Philip

“Curled up in the sunlight streaming in from floor-to-ceiling windows, it looked like a content, hairless dog wagging his little appendix tail as he relaxed on the living room carpet. The rubbery smell and thick vinyl texture, the carnival palette and gargantuan proportions also reminded me of those bouncing games I used to love jumping up and down on in stocking feet getting whiplash at parking-lot summer fairs.

“Blushing, I also could not help noticing it looked much like the thing it purported to be—a giant colon.”

Those words were contributed recently to a blog version of The Void, Concordia University’s self-described “most creative and interesting collaboration of artists and writers.” Concordia is in Montreal, which just happened to be the starting point of this year’s Giant Colon Tour, a four-city awareness campaign driven by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC).

The “tour” began September 10 to coincide with the World Congress of Gastroenterology meeting at Montreal’s Palais des Congres. From there, the world’s largest representation of a typical human bowel traveled to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, accompanied by CCAC staff and hundreds of volunteers.

Time constraints and the limited financial resources of the organization forced the CCAC to limit the Giant Colon’s appearance to four Canadian communities during the 30-day tour. Organizers wanted to do more … much more.

“We would love to take the giant colon to every community in Canada, but we just don’t have either the money or the staff to do it,” said Heidi Watts, a spokesperson for CCAC. “The more people are aware of colorectal cancer, the more they will talk about it, and more Canadians will be tested for this disease.”

Designed and built for the CCAC by Dr. Angelita Habr-Gama, a Brazilian colorectal surgeon, this 31-metre model is big enough to let people walk through, and hosts “internal” exhibits to educate visitors about what happens inside their colons. A smaller, crawl-through model was developed in 2003 by Molly McMaster (, a young American cancer survivor who used it on a 20-city tour of the USA as a tribute to her friend, Amanda Roberts, who lost her battle with colorectal cancer at the age of 27.

At first glance, it seems to be a fairly drastic, even silly way of raising the Canadian colorectal cancer flag high enough that a significant number of citizens will notice it. But colorectal cancer is one of the ‘silent killers’, often going unnoticed in our bodies until it kills us. It’s a nasty piece of work that will kill an estimated 8,400 Canadians by the end of December. It is the #2 cancer killer in this country, right behind lung cancer.

Drastic circumstances demand drastic, sometimes silly actions to get our attention.

According to Heidi Watts, the Giant Colon Tour witnessed thousands of curious people, from elementary school pupils to medical specialists, passing through the pink plastic replica. T-shirts resembling those available at rock stars’ events proclaiming Giant Colon Tour on the back, with the CCAC web address printed on the front (, were handed out on a first come-first served basis.

“We had a budget for 100 t-shirts for each city, but could have easily handed out four or five times than many,” Watts said.

And, with appropriate levels of funding, a few more staff, and some demonstrated increased interest by Canadian elected officials in the seriousness of colorectal cancer, the CCAC could have … indeed, should have … been in a position to hand out tees in every town and city that still hosts a viable, publicly funded general hospital.

One in 14 Canadian men and one out of every 16 Canadian women are expected to develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Kamloops or Kingston, Yellowknife or Yarmouth, the numbers remain the same. Shouldn’t people in every corner of this rich and bountiful country have opportunity to learn about this killer disease first-hand, in the comfort of their own communities, even at the risk of doing something that seems silly?

Without benefit of a national cancer strategy, something our federal government has so far declined to support, cancer fighters like the CCAC will continue to scrape and claw for education dollars while colorectal cancer … deemed to be 90 per cent treatable if detected early … continues to kill our families and friends.

Surely it’s beyond time that every level of government finds some creative and interesting way to keep the Giant Colon Tour, and thousands of Canadians, alive.

next  Closing out the year with thank

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