After a lengthy battle with colon cancer, Edel Blumberg, a “two-and-a-half” time survivor, took ownership of his illness by founding the Semi-Colon Club to raise awareness of the disease and its preventability.
Diagnosed with Crohn’s and colitis — both forms of irritable bowel disease that are often precursors to colon cancer — by age 15, Blumberg said that he was initially afraid of and embarrassed by his condition, and didn’t take the necessary measures to prevent the advancement of the disease.
So, when he was diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago, it was not a huge shock to him.
“It’s always a shock to hear ‘cancer,’ but it seemed like kind of the natural progression if you’re living with irritable bowel disease and you don’t take care of yourself,” he said.
After his first experience with cancer, Blumberg, now 58, was what he would call “OK” for three years before his second, more frightening diagnosis: Stage IV cancer with a 6 to 9 percent chance of survival.
His latest bout with cancer was two years ago, after he thought he had finally beaten it, when doctors warned that if he did not have his colon removed, he would face cancer a third time.
Even after such a long, exhausting battle, Blumberg never let his diagnosis define him; instead, he founded the Semi-Colon Club to “get the word out about colon cancer,” as the website says, and face the disease head-on, rather than succumb to it.
“I decided that I wanted to do something other than just be a victim of cancer. I wanted to be an advocate, and get the awareness out there,” he said. “It’s been a journey, and the essence of my organization is to not have my story become somebody else’s story.”
In the eight years since Blumberg came up with the idea for the Semi-Colon Club, the organization has hosted six Semi-Colon Crawls, its annual 5K walk, which has grown from the approximately 100 people who attended the first event. This year, Blumberg expects about 300.
Funds from the event are donated to causes such as colon cancer research, Hopewell Cancer Support and Johns Hopkins Hospital, among other organizations and efforts.
However, “the goal isn’t raising money, but raising awareness, raising education, outreach, getting people to tell other people,” Blumberg said. “No dollar amount will ever be able to replace the sole satisfaction you have of knowing, ‘Wow, I made a difference.’”
I decided that I wanted to do something other than just be a victim of cancer. I wanted to be an advocate, and get the awareness out there. It’s been a journey, and the essence of my organization is to not have my story become somebody else’s story.
— Edel Blumberg
Blumberg believes that his organization and his story have motivated people to take the right steps in dealing with and preventing colon cancer. But beyond that, Blumberg is a role model to the community and to anyone fortunate enough to have spent time with him.
“Most people that talk to me aren’t even interested in the colon cancer. That’s a facet of it, but it’s more that I’m a survivor, and they want to hear my story so that they can have some hope and so that they can be encouraged to keep the good fight up,” he said.
Chuck Krengel, who has spent five years on the executive board of the Semi-Colon Club, calls his close friend Blumberg an inspiration.
“I’ve had colon cancer in my family, but the primary reason why I got involved is because of Edel’s story,” Krengel said. “I believe that Edel is responsible for saving lives, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Along with Blumberg, Krengel is committed to spreading awareness about colon cancer.
“Colon cancer is so preventable. It is vital that people understand that a colonoscopy can save a life,” he said.
“You can’t just put your head in the sand [about colon cancer],” said Blumberg, “I, like anybody else when you’re young, thought ‘not me.’ You know, you think you’re invincible, you’re immortal.”
Blumberg’s advice to people currently struggling with colon cancer is to “seek help, read up, talk to people and get involved in support groups like our organization that can provide some insight,” he said.
This year’s Semi-Colon Crawl is at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 17 at the Owings Mills High School track. Register or donate at semicolonclub.org.
Meital Abraham is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.