Each month on the Be Seen, Get Screened blog, we feature a hero in the colon cancer screening community in our Hero of the Month Q&A. You can find old Hero of the Month posts on our old blog at exactsciences.com.
Kitt Shapiro has devoted her career to colon cancer awareness as a tribute to her late mother, the legendary American singer-actress Eartha Kitt. She was kind enough to provide answers to our questions, which you can find below.
Be Seen Get Screened: Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your personal connection to colorectal cancer?
Kitt Shapiro: My mother died from colon cancer on December 25th 2008. She had never had a colonoscopy. She lived an incredibly healthy life, eating home grown organic fruits and vegetables, staying away from processed foods, exercising daily and performing right up until two months before she passed.
Looking back, she probably had symptoms for many years. I remember her saying that she felt very bloated or that her stomach was upset and/or cramping, but she would comment, "I probably ate too much citrus fruit." or " too much carbonated water" (Perrier being her favorite). It never occurred to her that it could be something more serious because she always prided herself in her healthy lifestyle.
What are you doing to raise awareness of this disease?
Talking about it. It's surprising how many people make the assumption that my mother had some other kind of cancer. People really don't grasp the number of people who die from the disease. You say 'cancer' in a woman and they assume it's breast cancer. Or lung.
Tell us a little bit more about your Simply Eartha Lifestyle Collection. How did you come up with the idea, and what has the experience with Simply Eartha meant to you?
My mother was very connected to nature and the environment. Eartha was her given name and she truly was 'Of The Earth'. She was 'green' long before it was chic and recycled/repurposed throughout her life. She was a woman of few words when not in public, and enjoyed her home life, digging in her garden, walking by the river, spending time with me (her only child) and her dogs. She would often coin phrases, or sometimes rearrange ones she had heard, and she would call them "Kittisms".
I have taken her words and now share them with others, on different types of products (all made in the USA and using natural and/or recycled materials, creating a lifestyle brand called 'Simply Eartha' Accessories that SAY something. It is a tribute to my mother, her beauty and her wisdom.
In your opinion, why is it important for people to be educated about colorectal cancer and available prevention methods?
No one needs to die from colon cancer. People avoid getting screened because they think a colonoscopy is some awful horrible procedure. And it's so far from that. The prep isn't fun, but it's nothing compared to the treatment my mother went through discovering the disease in Stage III.
It's interesting how breast cancer awareness has become socially acceptable to discuss (and rightly so). But, it's much sexier to talk about breasts than it is to discuss our colons or intestinal tract and bathroom habits. And, I think that contributes to the reluctance to get screened.
Lastly, what is one thing that you would like people to take away from your story?
Let's remove the stigma of discussing our colons. Get screened early and say something to your medical provider if you have anything out of the ordinary going on. Don't be embarrassed. It's not worth it.