Blue light will illuminate Niagara Falls at 10 p.m. tonight in recognition of National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
"Blue is the symbol for colorectal cancer awareness and it represents the eternal memory of individuals who have passed on - who have died from this cancer," said Renae Kimble, program coordinator of the Cancer Services Program of Niagara County at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
"Also, (it represents) the hope that we have for a society that is cancer free. ... It shows an overflow of our hope, and that's the reason why the falls is blue."
To draw more attention to the cause, elected officials and medical professionals gathered Friday morning at the Niagara Falls Visitor Center to discuss prevention and treatment.
Colon cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in New York, and yet, it is preventable.
Screening and testing for colon cancer can help discover growths (also known as polyps), which can be removed before becoming cancer. In fact, more than half of deaths resulting from colon cancer could be prevented with regular screening.
"It is the single most effective procedure that's been shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer," said Dr. Yogesh Maheshwari, medical director at the Endoscopy Center of Niagara.
In New York, one out of four adults ages 50-75 years old has never received colon cancer screening tests.
Medical Director at the Endoscopy Center of Niagara Dr. Yogesh Maheshwari, left, and colon cancer survivor Martin Murphy of Lockport, both speak about early diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer.
The Cancer Services Program of Niagara County provides free colon cancer screenings to uninsured men and women ages 50-64. It also works to increase breast and cervical cancer screenings among residents of Niagara County through public education, policy and system changes, and the offering of free screenings for the uninsured.
Colon cancer survivor Martin Murphy of Lockport shared his personal testimonial and said, "I had put off having a colonoscopy done for four years after my 50th birthday."
Last year, he decided to go for a colonoscopy and it was determined he had colon cancer.
"To say the least, I was floored with this diagnosis," Murphy said.
"I had never experienced any symptoms to indicate that I had colon cancer. None. Different people, including nurses and medical professionals, would ask me what symptoms I had. They were often surprised to find out that I didn't have any at all," he added.
After radiation treatment, chemotherapy and surgery, Murphy said, "It was early screening that revealed my cancer. We are fortunate Niagara County offers free colon cancer screening for uninsured males and females between the ages of 50 and 65. I urge everyone over 50 to complete the screening. "
City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster also shared some personal details on how his family has been touched by colon cancer. He said members on both his and his wife's sides of the family have been affected by colon cancer.
"How reassuring it is for me, with history on both sides of the family, to know that my kids have access to this technology," Dyster said. "Colonoscopy is a miracle technology and, if you've ever been through colorectal cancer in your family, you know what I'm talking about."
Maheshwari said colon cancer "is a very preventable disease. ... We should all encourage everyone around us to get screened. ... In patients younger than 50 years old, we sometimes do colonoscopies if they have family members with colon cancer and ... polyps. So it is always good to ask relatives what if they have polyps or colon cancer, because it may alert you to get screened earlier than the age of 50."
"It's a duty of each of us to get out there and to urge our family members," Dyster said. "Whatever concern or fear they have about this, we have to help them know to come in ... to take what might be one of the most important preventive medical steps in their lives."
"I know we get busy with our lives, and I know sometimes you don't want to know - you don't want to go through the inconvenience," New York state Sen. Rob Ortt said. "But the bottom line is you have to do it - especially if you have family, you have kids, if you have a wife, you know, they're depending on you to go and do that - so you can make sure you are ahead of the curve."
Niagara County Assemblyman John D. Ceretto said by lighting the falls blue, "We're letting people know, 'Go get that screening. ... We love you, we want you to stay here a lot longer than today.' And for your family and for everybody else, get that screening today."
Ortt added, "Maybe that blue light coming on is a light coming on over somebody's head (saying), 'Maybe I should go get a colonoscopy or maybe my husband should go get a colonoscopy?' "
"There is something special here at the falls," Ceretto said. "It's very spiritual; it does touch your heart. ... It (talks) to millions and millions of people around the world. ... This is a perfect place to put the message of screening for a terrible disease."
For more information on colon cancer services in Niagara County, call 716-278-4898.
Tribune Editor Lauren Zaepfel contributed to this report.