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Coco's colossal message

March 8, 2007 - By LYDIA X. McCOY, Courier & Press staff writer
Signature School students, from left, Clayton Brown, 16, Sarah Creekmur, 16, Victoria Schmitt, 16, and Bridget Kramer, 16, hang out in “Coco, the Colossal Colon,” a 4-foot-tall, 40-foot-long replica of a human colon, during a field trip Wednesday to Washington Square Mall. “I didn’t know that much about colon cancer,” Kramer said. “I definitely didn’t know it was the No. 2 cancer killer for men and women. … I think I am going to eat more fiber and protect my colon.” Classes from kindergarten through 12th grade were invited to crawl through the colon and see examples of healthy colon tissue, noncancerous diseases, polyps and various stages of colorectal cancer.

Ashtyn Beale, 12, of Oak Hill Middle School, looks at cancerous cells through a microscope while visiting “Coco, the Colossal Colon” during a class field trip Wednesday to Washington Square Mall. The American Cancer Society estimates 112,340 new cases of colon cancer and 41,420 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year.

Fifth-grader Asia Story peered around her classmates, raising her hand and asking questions constantly. As she leaned over a microscope, she asked the volunteers behind the table, "What's this?"

The image she saw was of a normal colon, but as she made her way down the line of nine other microscopes, she saw the progression of colon cancer.

Story was one of more than 300 students who visited Washington Square Mall on Wednesday to learn about colon cancer, the second leading cancer killer in the United States. To educate those of all ages, the Ohio Valley Colon & Rectal Surgeons and Evansville Cancer Center brought "Coco, the Colossal Colon" to the mall.

The four-foot tall, 40-foot-long model of the human colon is designed to educate about colorectal cancer and other intestinal diseases. Visitors, such as Story and her Lodge Elementary classmates, who crawl through the model see Crohn's disease, diverticulosis, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, cancerous and noncancerous polyps and various stages of colon cancer.

"I thought it was fun," Story said. "We got to look inside your colon."

Story's classmates also picked up on how to eat healthy and include fiber in their diets.

"I knew there was such a thing as a colon, but I didn't know a lot about it," said Gentell Esters, 11, as she walked with her classmate, Torri Matz. "We knew that we were coming to look at the colon, but we didn't know we were going to do all this different stuff."

Since 2002, the model has traveled to 74 cities in 34 states and Canada.

Krista Wilson of the Ohio Valley Colon and Rectal Surgeons helped bring Coco to Evansville. She said the hope was students would learn about colon cancer and take the information to their parents.

"I think they definitely have an up-close look at what's inside of the colon," she said.

The event, which continues through the weekend for the public, brings awareness to the community and makes people comfortable with talking about colon cancer, Wilson said.

"Twenty years ago, you couldn't say breast cancer; now it's colon cancer people don't want to talk about," she said.

And she said the groups want to take away the misconception that having a colonoscopy is painful.

A colonoscopy allows a doctor to examine the entire lining of the rectum and colon using a thin, lighted tube called a colonoscope. During the procedure, a doctor can remove most polyps - noncancerous growths in the inner lining of the colon, which can turn cancerous if not removed - and take samples of other tissue if necessary.

"It's very important for people to understand that having a colonoscopy is just as easy as having a mammogram. It's just as easy as getting your teeth cleaned," Wilson said. "No one wakes up and says, 'Hey, I want to do that.' But it's something you have to do."

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