Stories of Hope
At Odds with Statistics, She Plays to Win
Article date: March 19, 2002
Don't believe it can't happen to you!
Molly McMaster has become well acquainted with the colon. So well, in fact, that she had a giant colon built so anyone can crawl right in, have a look around, and learn about colon cancer symptoms and survival. As a colon cancer survivor, she wanted to raise awareness about the disease and help others.
McMaster was told she had colon cancer Feb. 19, 1999, on her 23rd birthday. The diagnosis came after she'd endured months of abdominal pain, dismissed by doctors as constipation — until then. During those months, McMaster was a Colorado State University junior. She was also an ice-skating teacher and a hockey coach at a local rink. She spent her free time on the ice or in the weight room, dreaming of one day playing on the US Women's Hockey Team.
Losing a Job Saved Her Life
Always athletic, Molly pushed herself to work and play through the pain — most of the time. But some days it hurt so much she couldn't walk, and when she called in sick four times in two weeks she was fired. "I'm lucky that I got fired because that probably saved my life," she said.
Leaving her dreams behind, she went home to Glens Falls, N.Y. Within hours of her arrival, she had emergency surgery. Doctors removed 25 inches of her large intestine and a tumor.
McMaster's mother had a polyp removed at age 32. "We didn't know that even mattered till about six months after my surgery," McMaster said. "And that's another thing that I've been pushing. It's important for people to know their [family's] medical histories.
"People need to know their bodies, and they need to be persistent with their doctors," she said. "I'm out to teach people that you can be this young and get (colon cancer). Don't believe it can't happen to you!
"I was in really good physical shape when I went into this and I think that really helped," she said. "I was working out all the time, lifting weights and playing ice hockey. I played hockey once a week throughout my chemo treatments, until the last cycle, when I wasn't allowed to anymore.
"The last cycle was pretty rough, but I know it could've been so much worse," she said. "I knew that I had it better than some people, so I wasn't really letting it get me down. Too much," she added.
One day, while she was in chemotherapy, McMaster pulled her doctor aside. "You gotta sit down, I've got something crazy I want to tell you. I want to skate across the country to raise money and awareness for colon cancer.
"He's like, 'okay, whatever,'" she said.
He did put her in touch with a volunteer at a local American Cancer Society chapter. "It was really funny, the first meeting," she said. "She [the volunteer] sat with me while I was doing my chemo and I explained to her what I wanted to do (skate across the country) and said I wanted to raise money.
"She brought envelopes and gave them to me and said, 'you know you can go door to door and collect money…' and I was like, 'no!' I'm thinking, Today Show, David Letterman!"
She called her trek across the country "Rolling to Recovery" and skated from Glens Falls to Greeley, Colo., a 71-day, 2,000-mile trip that ended July 29, 2000. Then she ran in the New York City Marathon in November later that year. Her exploits got her an interview she'd hoped for. "I was on the Today Show back in November with Katie Couric. As Couric was leaving, she said, 'if you do anything crazy for colon cancer awareness month, let us know and we'll cover it.' And the wheels started turning," McMaster said.
If You Build It, They Will Come
"It was kind of a challenge for me," McMaster said. "I wasn't going to let that opportunity pass me up. One morning in the shower, I thought, 'dear Lord, we'll build a colon!'"
"I took my idea to a company called Adirondack Scenics," she said. "They build stage sets and things like that. They said, okay, and came back to me with a design and there you have it!"
And so the Colossal Colon was born. In December 2001, McMaster carried the Olympic Torch through Glens Falls. Now a morning radio personality at a local station, she's anticipating the Colossal Colon's debut. She said its sponsors "want to take it on a national tour, and that's what I wanted to do, so I was like, 'yes!'"
"Hanging out with a colon, you never know what'll happen," she said.
The Colossal Colon is a model of a colon approximately 40 feet long and 4 feet tall. Visitors who crawl through see polyps, cancer, diverticulosis, and other colon diseases. It is an educational tool colon that cancer advocacy and awareness groups can use. "Everybody asks me, 'what are you going to do next?'" she said. "So, I have to top the last one every time!