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Cancer survivor asks for funding, coverage
Former Stafford resident heads to Capitol Hill to share her story with others

 Rochelle Joseph went to Capitol Hill to ask for more research for colorectal cancer. She was diagnosed at 26.
CATHY DYSON/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 3/21/2010

By CATHY DYSON

WASHINGTON--After Rochelle Joseph celebrated her 10th year as a cancer survivor, she decided to speak out against the disease nobody wants to talk about.

She put on a gray-striped business suit, along with a blue T-shirt that read "Cover Your Butt," and headed to Capitol Hill.

With other members of C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition, she sat down with legislators and their staff members Wednesday to tell people about the second leading cause of cancer deaths in America.

"I was diagnosed when I was 26," said Joseph, a former Stafford County resident who now lives in Upper Marlboro, Md.

When she got sick in 1999, many doctors considered colorectal cancer a disease of white males, 50 and over. "And I was none of those," Joseph said repeatedly, during five brief meetings in lawmakers' offices.

Joseph's tumor was advanced--a Stage 3 out of a possible Stage 4. She had four major surgeries and seven months of chemotherapy.

The drugs caused a side effect, toxic neuropathy, to settle in her legs. The young woman who had just finished her master's degree in urban planning ended up in a wheelchair.

Doctors told her she might never walk again, or that her movement would be limited. They warned she'd never enjoy the rigorous activity of others her age.

Joseph endured another eight months of physical therapy--and worked at it until she could walk again. She put her feet through quite a test on Wednesday, as she navigated the maze of buildings that are part of the U.S. Capitol complex.

"The pain, the sweat, whatever, thank God for it," Joseph said as she hoofed from one meeting to another. "It's 60-some degrees outside, the sun is shining, and I can walk up the hill again."

Joseph, 37, was among 55 representatives of C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition who visited lawmakers this week. She made the rounds with Regan Weaver, a fellow activist from Annapolis who runs a mentoring program for children. In two years, three parents of the children she helps have died from colorectal cancer, and all were under 40.


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FAMILY: She and husband Jaymar Joseph have an adopted 2-year-old daughter, Ryan.

PARENTS: Jim and Edna Bynum of Stafford County. Has one brother, John. DESCRIBES HER MOTHER, who does accounting for the City of Fredericksburg, as "a shining star." Edna Bynum took care of Rochelle, who came back home at 26 after she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Then Edna cared for her husband, who got the same diagnosis three weeks later. EDUCATION: Graduated from Spelman College, then got her master's in urban planning from Georgia Tech. CAREER: Recently resigned after seven years as a deputy zoning administrator in Washington to be a full-time mother and homemaker. May do some consulting work as an urban planner.

COLORECTAL CANCER is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in men and women.

IN 2006, 139,127 people were diagnosed and 53,196 died. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE between colon cancer and colorectal cancer? Tumors that form within inches of the rectum are defined as colorectal cancer; those elsewhere in the colon are colon cancer. SYMPTOMS: Changes in bowel habits, constipation or diarrhea, pain in the abdominal area and unexplained weight loss and fatigue. The biggest symptom, said survivor Rochelle Joseph, is no symptom. SCREENING is done by a colonoscopy. If growths, or polyps, are detected early, they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Doctors told Joseph her tumor grew for about 10 years. ON THE NET:

FightColorectalCancer .org

Cancer.org. Search for colorectal cancer.