The first thought that crossed Edel Blumberg’s mind when he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2003 was ‘It’s all my fault.’
As a child, Blumberg had suffered from intestinal disorders, polyps and bowel issues. They had gotten so bad he couldn’t even fully participate in school activities. But he remained as indifferent as he could, trying to carry on a normal life, not telling anyone about his condition.
“I’ve known him many years and he hid his condition when I was living with him,” said Ron Kaplan, a friend of Blumberg’s since high school. “I had a feeling something was wrong though; he wouldn’t come out of his room.”
But when the diagnosis came, the Reisterstown resident couldn’t push out of his mind the problems he had faced and not taken care of.
“I thought ‘this is my fault,’” Blumberg, 55, said. “I led a life where I didn’t take care of myself. I knew I had a background for this, and I chose to let it fester.”
After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer returned in 2006 as stage IV. But instead of not doing much as he had in his younger years, Blumberg decided to take action. He founded a non-profit foundation, The Semi-Colon Club, to help educate others about colon cancer.
“I thought I would just get a website to have people interact, like a blog,” Blumberg said. “But it took on a life of its own, and it grew.”
After receiving a more targeted treatment called Avastin, which cuts off the blood supply to tumors, Blumberg was finally tumor- and cancer-free. Blumberg’s philosophy became to not have others’ stories be like his and to raise awareness about a cancer that’s not as talked about—simply because talking about bowels isn’t particularly pretty.
“A lot of women come up to me and say ‘oh I need to get on my husband about [a colonoscopy], but really it’s not a man’s disease,” Blumberg said. “The statistics are split.”
In Maryland, colon cancer was the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the 1980s, and the state was third in the nation for cancer-related deaths. But according to the state’s 2011 report, Maryland is now 21st in the nation for cancer deaths.
Carol Noel, a past chairwoman of the Semi-Colon Club, said Blumberg encouraged her to get a colonoscopy.
“On the month of my 50th birthday, I got one, and it turned out I had a benign polyp that, thank god, they found,” Noel said. “Edel was a strong force behind my getting one, now I need to give my husband a nudge.”
Part of Blumberg’s inspiration for his organization was his wife. A two-time survivor of breast cancer, she participated in the Susan G. Komen breast cancer walks, which at the time were small. When Blumberg saw how they grew to almost 30,000 participants, he incorporated the Semi-Colon Crawl, which took place Saturday at Hannah More Park, into his foundation.
About 200 people turned out to the 5K. They listened to Edel, a doctor from Johns Hopkins and a gastroenterologist discuss colon cancer awareness.
“Having cancer makes you realize not to take things for granted and to not let things pass you by,” Blumberg said, “and to keep looking forward to tomorrow. If I can get through to a few people, then I’ll be happy.”