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Undy 5K organizer wants word to get out about colon cancer

Tess Fraser plans to run around Delaware Park in her underwear Saturday, and she'd like you to join her.

She doesn't mind a little embarrassment if it can save lives.

Losing your mother to colon cancer can do that to someone.

“There are a lot of cancers that sneak up on you, but colon cancer is not one of them,” said Fraser, chairwoman of the Buffalo Undy 5000, a 5K race and fun run to benefit the Colon Cancer Alliance, which focuses on treatment and prevention.

She has organized the run three times since her mom, Barbara Hogg, died from the disease a little more than two years ago, at age 59.

“I don't want other people to go through what our family went through,” said Fraser, 33, a married mother of two who lives in North Buffalo and works in nonprofit communications. “It was a horrendous experience.”

Hogg, whose maiden name was Ganley, was one of 11 siblings who grew up in Syracuse. She was the niece of Joe Ganley, a former longtime columnist for the Syracuse Post Standard.

As a young woman, she met Mark G. Hogg (pronounced Hogue), a Syracuse University student from Western New York, married him and moved to the Town of Tonawanda. The couple raised Fraser and her younger brother, Mark W.

Hogg, a teacher's aide in the Ken-Ton School District, took care of her health. Three of her sisters battled breast cancer, so she religiously got mammograms.

Colonoscopies? Those never occurred to her, her daughter remembers, because nobody in her large Irish-Catholic family had ever had colon cancer.

“Her surgeon told me that her colon cancer was probably growing for close to 10 years,” Fraser said. “Just one colonoscopy during that time, we could have had a very different outcome.

“I don't blame her,” she said. “I just think colon cancer needs to be talked about more, and people need to understand why, rather than saying, 'I don't want to go through the prep of getting a colonoscopy,' the discomfort you're going to feel in your 24 hours of prep is nothing compared to the discomfort you're going to feel if you're diagnosed with colon cancer.

“That's what I have to say about it, and I nag everybody. It's my new job: 'Oh, happy birthday. You just turned 50? Are you going to go get screened?”

Many families need to hear such advice. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., behind only lung cancer, even though 90 percent of cases are preventable, according to the American Cancer Society.

People 50 and older, as well as those with a family history of colon cancer, are encouraged to get a colonoscopy every five to 10 years, depending on whether precancerous polyps are discovered during one of their procedures, said Dr. Patrick Boland, a medical oncologist at Ros-well Park Cancer Institute who mostly treats patients with colon and rectal cancers.

Sixty percent of Americans in those risk groups are following the guidelines, according to a study published this year in “CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,” but 40 percent are not.

“There's a lot of room for improvement,” said Boland, who plans to run the Undy 5000 this year with “Bowel Movement,” a team of more than 20 others who specialize in gastrointestinal diseases at Roswell.

“A lot of people come out to this event because they have some type of personal connection,” Fraser said, “but a lot of people come out because they want to look goofy and run around in their underwear.” That's fine, she said, as long as they support a good cause and learn something.

Most participants wear underwear over their shorts or sweatpants, as the Fraser and Hogg families plan to do.

“We've had people just wear underwear,” she said. “It's mostly guys wearing goofy underwear. We've also had people bring their dogs – because dogs are welcome in Delaware Park – and put underwear on their dogs. There also will be a giant, inflatable walk-through colon.

“I can't explain what it feels like to stand there and look out at the park,” Fraser added, “and see all of these people here who've all come together for this one cause. It completely warms my heart. It makes me proud to be a Buffalonian. I just think our city is amazing.”

A total of about 2,000 people participated in the first two runs, which raised more than $180,000 for the Colon Cancer Alliance, a national organization that helps coordinate 20 similar runs in cities across the country. Register for this year's race at or stop out before the 9 a.m. fundraiser Saturday.

Proceeds support the alliance, which channels part of the funds into colon cancer screenings in low-income Western New York communities as part of Independent Health Foundation's Good for the Neighborhood program.

“There are others experiencing what our family did, there are some fighting like hell, and there are others who've gotten through it,” said Fraser. She said the Undy 5000 and her work with the alliance gives her hope.

“I think that by doing things like this … by using our voices and sharing stories, we can hopefully change the statistics,” she said. “That's always what it comes down to for me: It shouldn't be the second-leading cause of cancer deaths if it's one of the most preventable cancers.”