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Couple Aims to Conquer Colon Cancer: Effort fueled by personal loss and hope for future generations

Posted: June 29, 2017

George and Latashia Kiel received the 2017 David Jagelman, MD, Award
for Advocacy in Colorectal Cancer from ASCRS.

Making colon cancer awareness cool is a tall order, but one that Latashia Kiel and her husband George have taken on with gusto. The results so far are, well, cool — and very successful.

So successful that the couple’s Austin area-based Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation recently received the 2017 David Jagelman, MD, Award for Advocacy in Colorectal Cancer from the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), an organization dedicated to advancing and promoting the science and practice of the treatment of patients with colorectal diseases.

“Colon cancer can nearly always be prevented through detection and removal of lesions and can often be cured if detected before the cancer has spread,” Latashia said. “The problem is, nobody wants to talk about it.”

That’s how it was when George’s mom Debra was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

“There weren’t enough concrete conversations, and the family had a hard time grasping the idea of her being sick and dying,” Latashia said. “That understanding just wasn’t there.”

Debra died in March 2014 at the age of 57 just a year after her diagnosis. By Mother’s Day that same year, Latashia and George announced they would hold a sneaker-themed basketball tournament dedicated to her memory and during which they would provide information about colon cancer and the importance of early detection.

In July, the Kiels kicked off the first basketball tournament, which attracted over 500 people. After the successful event, everyone kept asking when the next event would be. The pair were on their way.

Latashia and George founded the Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to address colon cancer through education, public outreach, research and aggressive initiatives. They are especially concerned about the growing number of young people being diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year.

A new study from the American Cancer Society that analyzed cancer incidence by birth year has found that colorectal cancer rates, which had dropped steadily for people born before 1950, have been increasing for every generation born since 1950. The American Cancer Society estimates the disease will be diagnosed in about 13,500 people under 50 in the United States this year and claim 49,000 lives.

George Kiel and Latashia at a recent Kick & Roll
basketball event

“Colon cancer is rising in young adults and is no longer an old person’s disease, but there’s very little online information about that,” Latashia said. “We started asking ourselves ‘Where’s our voice?!’ So now we’re focusing on prevention and attacking the modifiable risk factors of colon cancer — such as physical inactivity, obesity and diet — by encouraging people between the ages of 18 and 35 to adopt a healthy lifestyle. We also encourage screening, especially for those who have a family history of the disease. We want to make it cool to talk about the risks factors, especially knowing about any family history of colorectal cancer. We urge everyone to get on the right foot today, and you may not have to deal with this.”

Latashia knows what she’s talking about. She received a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in Adult Health with a Focus on Teaching from The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and worked several years as a nurse at Brackenridge in Austin, now Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas Hospital. Today, Latashia is a clinical instructor at the UT Austin School of Nursing.

She credits School of Nursing colleagues and instructors for encouraging her to get the message out about early detection of colon cancer. “Dr. Tracie Harrison has been a great mentor to me,” she said. “She kept pushing me to address the issues.”

George brings his own skill set to the dynamic duo. As a communications professional and co-founder of COISKI Media, an interactive/digital agency specializing in branding, he has tapped into social media messaging, because as Latashia said, that’s where the kids are. The foundation has more than 60,000 followers and that number is growing rapidly as the foundation hosts everything from the wildly popular Kick & Roll basketball event, a colon cancer awareness Blue Tie formal affair every fall at the Google Fiber Space in downtown Austin, and Family Fundays in the Park.

“Blue is the color for colon cancer awareness, and we sell blue shoe laces called “Blue Knots” on our foundation website for people who want to show their support for research and prevention,” she said. “What we especially love about the family events is that kids take the knowledge we provide about prevention and early detection home to their parents. We’ve had mothers and fathers write to say that their kids wouldn’t leave them alone until they had a colonoscopy! That’s encouraging.”

“Nothing can be done about the non-modifiable risk factors of colorectal cancer, such as heredity and family history, but we believe a steady and direct focus on the behavioral risk factors can assuredly force colon cancer, the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in America, down the list,” Latashia said.

For more information about the Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation’s upcoming events, such as the Kick & Roll Classic 3 on 3 event on Saturday, Aug. 5, visit the Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation's website.

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