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Deerfield cancer survivor to be featured in Times Square awareness campaign

Woman loses sister to the same cancer she had, now advocating for timely screening
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 11:56 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:25 PM CST
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DEERFIELD, Wis. (WMTV) - A Deerfield colon cancer survivor is now sharing her journey of triumph and loss with a national audience.

Linda Graffin was selected to be one of 24 ambassadors for the 2021 Fight Colorectal Cancer campaign “No Excuses”, which will run in New York City’s Times Square March 1-8.

Graffin says colon and rectal cancers are common, but not talked about enough. She’s made it her life’s work to change that.

In 2015 her older sister and best friend, Karen “Kari” Dahl, was diagnosed with colon cancer. “She went and had her colonoscopy done. She was 46-years-old. After she had her colonoscopy done she went right to the UW. Stage 4, terminal,” Graffin said.

Before she even looked into treatment options, Kari’s priority was for Linda to get screened too. Graffin immediately made an appointment with her own doctor to get a colonoscopy. “They found that I had 4 polyps and 2 of them were cancer,” she explained.

This early, stage 2 diagnosis saved her life at 42-years-old. “They told me if I would have waited, at one more year, I would have been stage 4. Just like my sister,” Graffin added.

Linda had successful removal surgery, while Kari started chemotherapy and had surgery to remove the tumor in her colon. According to Graffin, “she ended up having radiation beads put into her liver, because it had metastasized to her liver.”

At first, it seemed Kari may have a second chance. and Graffin felt it “was going really well. She was responding. She had her treatment every two weeks.”

For the next two years, Graffin cared tirelessly for her sister. In 2017, Kari stopped responding to treatment. “There was just nothing more that they could do. So she went on hospice and in October of 2017 she passed away,” Graffin recalled.

Kari’s death became Graffin’s inspiration to promote screening for colon and rectal cancer. She attended her first Call on Congress in 2018, advocating for research funding and timely screening.

“It’s so important to be screened. You know people younger than in their 20′s are getting it,” Graffin said.

She’s is an active member of the organization Fight Colorectal Cancer and was honored when she learned her story would be broadcast in the heart of the Big Apple. “In the middle of Times Square, people can look up at the screen and see us, see our stories,” says Graffin.

She’s hoping to inspire friends, family and strangers not to put off getting screened and to know the common symptoms associated with colorectal cancer.

“If I can save one person, like my sister saved me, it’s worth it,” Graffin concluded.

Kari had lower back pain and blood in her stool prior her diagnosis. Graffin, on the other hand, never had any symptoms.

They learned through genealogy research that their great grandmother had rectal cancer. According to Fight CRC, 25% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family history.

“If you feel like you need a colonoscopy or to use Cologuard, fight for yourself. Don’t let the doctors tell you no you know you’re too young,” says Graffin.

Thanks to Graffin’s efforts, Governor Tony Evers has issued a proclamation for the second year in a row to make March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in the Badger State.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Proclamation
Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Proclamation(WMTV)

“That for me was like, OK Wisconsin cares. Wisconsin is going to fight and make sure people are screened,” says Graffin.

The proclamation states that colorectal cancer is the third deadliest cancer in both men and women in the United States, killing more than 53,000 Americans last year.

While there is no cure, it is one of few cancers that can be prevented with timely screening. The American Cancer Society recommends screening starting at age 45.

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