Staff retreat at DC mall

The history of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance

25 years of service

As the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to colorectal cancer (CRC), the Colorectal Cancer Alliance has had a massive impact over the past 25 years on CRC advancements in research, awareness, screening, and more. What started as an ambitious idea among family and friends many years ago has transformed into the nation’s largest colorectal cancer nonprofit working to end this disease in our lifetime. Here’s a look at its history and some of the most significant milestones.

1999

On March 18, a group of more than 40 survivors, caregivers, and friends founded the organization. The first annual meeting of the Colon Cancer Alliance was held in Washington, D.C. A board of directors was appointed, and a committee structure was put in place for the work group.
 

2000-2006

The Alliance grew from an all volunteer group to an organization of about 10 people who created the first toll-free Helpline, buddy program, chat room, financial assistance program, national conference bringing together patients with medical expertise, and Undy 5000, which would later become known as the Walk to End Colon Cancer. In February 2000, President Bill Clinton designated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
 

2003

DC ScopeItOut is created, originally as a 5K run/walk, bringing together 4,000 people — the largest crowd ever to gather for colorectal cancer.
 

2009

Dress in Blue Day is launched nationwide by the Alliance and Anita Mitchell Isler, a stage IV survivor, who started the initiative at her son's school in 2006 after losing a close friend and her father to the disease. The recognition day increases awareness of colorectal cancer and shows support for all who are affected. The private Facebook group Blue Hope Nation is created to unite thousands of allies for peer-to-peer support. On Mother’s Day 2009, Michael Sapienza lost his mother, Chris, to colon cancer at age 59. 
 

2010

Michael, his family, and close friends started the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation in memory of his mother (the Foundation later merged with and became part of the Alliance).

2011

Blue Hope Bash, the Alliance’s premier fundraising event series, is launched in Washington D.C., raising $150,000. Chris4Life gains momentum for its successful campaigns and creative and personal mission.
 

2011-2014

Chris4Life started a research fund, and expanded the ScopeItOut 5K to eight cities across the country. The Alliance received a $6 million gift, propelling the cause to heights.
 

2016

The Colon Cancer Alliancemerged with theChris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation. Together, the organizations became the largest nonprofit dedicated to colorectal cancer in the United States.
 

2017

The Colon Cancer Alliance became the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to represent both colon and rectal cancers better. A new brand, with "nation of allies" as a central theme, was created to unite thousands who shared the mission of ending colorectal cancer. 
 

2018

The Alliance launched March Forth, a first-of-its-kind screening effort in Philadelphia to save underserved lives. The Alliance also launched its Patient and Family Journey, a portal for patients to get customized support online and the predecessor of BlueHQ.

2019

The Alliance’s programs to screen, care, and cure are positioned to save 100,000 lives over 10 years, reach 750,000 patients in their families, and invest tens of millions in research. The Undy RunWalk was rebranded as the Walk to End Colon Cancer and expanded to more than 20 cities.
 

2020

In response to the pandemic, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance established the Care During COVID-19 Fund to make possible the patient support programs our community needed most during the crisis. The Alliance also launched a screening navigation program that included an online screening assessment tool (quiz.getscreened.org) to help people learn about screening options based on their personal risk factors. Ally to Ally is launched offering meaningful connections and moderated message boards on specific topics for all allies.

2021

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its colorectal cancer screening guidelines, lowering the recommended age to begin screening from 50 to 45, making 20 million more people eligible to get screened. The Alliance’s first Cycles of Impact in Philly is launched with a $2.5 million gift.
 

2022

Lead From Behind, the Alliance’s groundbreaking awareness initiative with Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, is launched with an impact of 25 million video viewers and a 36% increase in colonoscopy appointments made through ZocDoc. In 2023, the initiative featured Terry Crews and Dak Prescott. 

2023

BlueHQ is launched to provide colorectal cancer patients and caregivers with an online personalized platform to get customized health information. The Alliance secured a $5 million gift to seed its Health Equity efforts, and launched Project Cure CRC with a goal of funding $50 million in research to help end the disease. Meanwhile, some progress is seen as the CRC incidence rate disparity gap between Black Americans and non-Hispanic whites is narrowed by 5%.
 

Allies from the start

 

In 1999, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, initially named the Colon Cancer Alliance, was established by a group of over 40 survivors, caregivers, and friends. Recognizing a significant gap, they aimed to enhance public understanding of colorectal cancer and offer crucial support to those impacted by the disease.

Starting as a small online support group, the collective's passion and vision spurred a nationwide movement. The sudden passing of a key founder, Marshall Kragen, and the impactful 1998 National March to Conquer Cancer galvanized the group to redouble their efforts. Using email and online chat rooms for communication, they formulated the organization's name, logo, and mission. This collaboration laid the groundwork for the Alliance's legal and administrative structure and all subsequent work.

2019

In 1999, Washington, DC hosted the first annual meeting of the Colon Cancer Alliance. Following this gathering, a dedicated board of directors was established, alongside a structured committee for the working group. Even after 25 years, the invaluable contributions of these initial members are celebrated and remembered.

The year 2016 marked a significant merger with The Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation, an organization established in 2010 and renowned for its impactful campaigns and deeply personal mission. This merger created the largest colorectal cancer-specific nonprofit in the United States, propelling a collective mission for increased screening and enhanced support, allowing patients and survivors to lead longer, enriched lives.

In November 2017, the transition to the name Colorectal Cancer Alliance underscored a commitment to empowering a nationwide network of allies. This network collaborates in offering support to patients, families, caregivers, and survivors; increasing awareness of preventive measures; and inspiring funding for essential research.

With passion and determination, the Alliance aims to fundamentally change how society sees this devastating disease, with a mission to end colorectal cancer within our lifetime.

Our founders

We are honored to recognize the outstanding service of the following individuals. Their hard work and dedication made the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and Chris4Life a reality.

  • Dorothy Bandi
  • Marietta Barrett
  • Carolyn Beeker
  • Janet Blalock
  • Patti Clapp
  • Terry Danielson
  • Maria Donatucci
  • Julie Edell
  • Gail Estes
  • Richard Farrell
  • Gilles Frydman
  • Bill Glenning
  • Deirdre Good
  • Jacquie Graham
  • Gail Harris
  • Diane Hornyak
  • Doni Kanka
  • Terry Kanka
  • Amy Kelly
  • Bonnie Knapp
  • Marshall Kragen
  • Kevin Lewis
  • Fred MacDonnell
  • Pam McAllister
  • Darrell McGarvey
  • Pat McGoldrick
  • Gregory Monahan
  • Cathy Moore
  • Kate Murphy
  • Michael Retsky
  • Nancy Roach
  • Frank Sapienza
  • Paul Sapienza
  • Michael Sapienza
  • Laurette Savary
  • Priscilla Savary
  • Julian Sheffield
  • Vivian Sitton
  • Don Sherrill
  • Andrew Spiegel
  • Judi Sohn
  • Teri Testa
  • Jerome Ward
  • Jana Weber
  • Jeannie Moore
  • Shelly Weiler
  • Randall White
  • Susan Williams