Now that he has shared his stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis and treatment story, Orioles star Trey Mancini wants to get through chemotherapy and hopefully return to full health before taking what seems like a natural next step: advocacy.
He said on a Zoom call with local reporters Wednesday that he wants to use his platform for awareness to help others identify colon cancer through routine physicals — the way he did — before it spreads throughout the body.
Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said that advocacy from a platform such as Mancini’s can go a long way toward saving lives, especially if Mancini brings awareness to possible early intervention methods for the growing population of young Americans diagnosed with the disease.
“He can help the alliance and the entire colon cancer community really bring this to the forefront,” Sapienza said. “It doesn’t just affect old white men. It affects young adults like him, both men and women.
“We’re honestly seeing these cases of young onsets happen more and more. I can see him helping us with some sort of awareness campaign, either for young onset or the new screening age, serving on the Never Too Young advisory board as a distinguished member — there’s a lot of stuff.”
Sapienza said that colorectal cancers don’t have as many visible spokespersons as other forms, mostly because patients have in the past shied away from talking about it.
“I give Trey a lot of credit with coming forward with it and being really open to it, and I think the younger generation is now starting to be like that,” he said. “But colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women combined, but yet you don’t hear a lot of people talking about it."
Past celebrities involved in awareness efforts include television news host Katie Couric, actor and musician Terrence Howard, and “Today Show” host Craig Melvin. In 2017, then-Ravens tight end Maxx Williams featured the Colorectal Cancer Alliance while participating in the “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign that season in honor of his uncle, who died that year of the disease.
And Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan football coach and brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, has supported his wife Sarah’s colon cancer awareness efforts after Sarah Harbaugh lost a brother to the disease while he was in his early-20s.
Mancini, 28, said that he wanted to share his story throughout his medical journey, from his entry physical at spring training that revealed low iron levels in his blood to the colonoscopy that showed the tumor and the March 12 surgery to remove it.
In possibly using his platform for awareness purposes, the detection aspect of his own story is one that he hopes to bring attention to.
“If it’s something as simple as getting a blood test every year, that’s how I found this out,” Mancini said. “And it’s very important, and those of us who are in our 20′s can ignore going for normal checkups because we don’t think anything is wrong. None of us think it can happen to us, and it can.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call for me, and I think hopefully a lot of people, especially those with family history and somebody like me whose parent had it, it’s important to go earlier than recommended, for sure. Because like I said, I think they reduced it to like 45 now for when they want people to start getting colon cancer screenings. But I think even before that, especially when you have a family history, it’s very important. It’s very easy to remove early on, and it’s definitely a preventable thing if you catch it early. That’s definitely something I already feel passionate about, and going forward, definitely something I want to bring to the limelight.”
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s Never Too Young advisory board is focused on sharing the stories of the growing number of young Americans who are diagnosed with the disease. Their data show one in 10 cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in the United States are under the age of 50. Young-onset colon cancer can also be more advanced because doctors might misdiagnose symptoms or not screen for it.
Sapienza said that Mancini could be particularly useful in that area with something such as a public service announcement advocating for those with symptoms or a family history to get checked earlier than the recommended age of 50. It’s now down to age-45 for those considered at-risk.
“If you aren’t getting your regular check-ups, you absolutely should because it can mean the difference between dying from this disease and catching it early and preventing the disease,” Sapienza said.
Mancini said that raising awareness for physicals was “definitely” something he was interested in, as well as “maybe helping people out who can’t afford for get physicals or something as simple as a blood test.”
They’re all early-stage ideas, and ones he pledged to give more thought to once he was on the other end of his fight. At that stage, he knows he can be of value to people who are just diagnosed and beginning treatment. He plans to lend support the same way recovered patients did for him this spring.
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“I can be like that for people in the future who have this, too,” Mancini said. “There’s nothing more comforting and nothing that gives you confidence more than talking to people who have been through this and are totally healthy.”