RICHMOND, Va. -- Words written by Mindy Conklin’s late husband still inspire her 10 years after he wrote them.
“Cancer is a game and I am battling my toughest opponent. I will never give up without a fight.”
“He was a high school athlete and college athlete. Fell in love with him the first time I saw him,” said Mindy.
Rich penned the letters when his time was short.
“His loyalty. Dedication to family. Love of life,” said Mindy.
In 2009, the assistant football coach at Clover Hill High School fell ill.
“He was like I have a cramp or stitch and I can’t stretch it out,” recalled Mindy.
A doctor’s diagnosis proved devastating.
“He had tears in his eyes and said your husband has stage 3 or stage 4 colon cancer. It was right there. Shocking. Shocking,” said Mindy.
Rich was so wracked with cancer, surgery wasn’t an even option. His survival rate just 11%.
“He asked the doctor how bad is it. He must have known,” she said.
A year later, Rich’s body finally gave out.
“Then unfortunately when cancer comes in and does what it wants to do you deteriorate rather quickly and he passed January 20, 2011,” said Mindy.
Rich was 43.
Mindy warned colorectal cancer, once thought of as a disease common only in seniors, is ravaging more young people.
“I don’t see it slowing down. The rates of colorectal cancer have nearly doubled if you’re under the age of 50,” said Mindy.
Mindy is honoring Rich by educating others.
“The silence surrounding this disease it is what is killing everybody,” she proclaimed.
Mindy’s non-profit, Hitting Cancer Below the Belt, aims to normalize the conversation about a body part most people ignore.
“We need to pay attention to what our body signals are telling us,” said Mindy.
Her target audience is people in their teens and twenties.
“That to me is the scary part. Within three years. What was absolutely unheard of and shocking and is now becoming almost common. And that is really scary,” said Mindy.
In 2018, colorectal cancer robbed Susan Wysoki of her only daughter.
“She was not overweight. She was perfectly healthy until she wasn’t,” said Susan. “How could this happen? How could this happen to such a young person?”
Jessica Joseph was diagnosed with a baseball-sized tumor wrapped around her colon.
“They took out 99% of all cancer, but they told us it would be the 1% that would kill her,” said Susan.
Shortly before her death, Jessica shared her story with us hoping her peers would listen.
“For me, it was a shock hearing I had cancer for the very first time," said Jessica. “I’d say it is really important to get checked. Not to ignore your body. You know you’re supposed to know how your body feels. You know when something is wrong with it.”
The senior at Collegiate who aspired to be a surgeon died one day after graduating. She was just 18.
“I think that is what she was holding onto and the very next morning is when she slipped away,” said Susan.
Susan and Mindy share memories of their loved ones. They’re bonded in grief, but both women find strength knowing their efforts may save lives.
“For me, it is the absolute driving force. I miss her every second of every minute of every day,” Susan said.
When Mindy needs encouragement, she looks no further than the letters her husband Rich left behind. Words still fresh as the day he wrote them.
If you would like more information about colon cancer and groups that help patients and their families, click on the following links:
If you know of someone who is a “Hero Among Us” email me at firstname.lastname@example.org