SHERIDAN — Dana Townsend and her immediate family portray passion and purpose when speaking about colon cancer. Townsend celebrates being cancer free after her diagnosis of colon cancer in 2011. Townsend’s sister, Danielle DiBenedetto, died of colon cancer on March 7, 2015.
Both women were diagnosed at the age of 48, two years before medical communities suggest screenings for colon cancer.
“Sometimes you have to convince the medical community to go against the ‘standard’ of 50 years of age,” Townsend’s mother Anita Schamber said.
DiBenedetto lived in Fort Myers, Florida, when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Because of her work as a firefighter and paramedic, doctors determined environmental exposure to toxins a contributing factor in her cancer. DiBenedetto initiated changes within her workplace and urged her coworkers to get screened for the deadly disease. Two others discovered precancerous conditions, and one colleague died shortly after DiBenedetto from the same disease.
Townsend traveled down a difficult road to recovery. She went through colon resection surgery, traveled for her 12 rounds of chemotherapy and suffered neuropathy — nerve damage — years after treatment.
On top of physical setbacks, Townsend suffered emotional strife following her sister’s death from the same disease. Schamber said Townsend went through survivor guilt, asking ‘Why did I survive and Danielle didn’t?’
“Those are the emotional, unanswered questions that linger,” Schamber said. “I think she’s fine now, but it was really hard on everybody.”
Townsend tried to initiate some way to reach out to others going through a struggle similar to hers right away.
“She immediately, when she was going through chemo, wanted to reach out to people,” Schamber said. “I think somewhere early in the game I recommended she step back and take care of herself and then she would be in a position to help others.”
Townsend took her mother’s advice, overcame her colon cancer, rested and quickly jumped into helping others.
She became a mentor with the 4th Angel Care Patient and Caregiver Mentoring Program, started by Olympic medalist Scott Hamilton, which pairs those beginning cancer recovery with a one-on-one mentor who successfully made a similar journey, according to the program’s website.
“It was truly inspiring, and I also dreamed of creating an annual event that would create more awareness, create more support and to celebrate survivors,” Townsend said in an email.
Townsend’s dreams became reality in 2013 when the survivor hosted the inaugural Bottoms Up Bash. The “fun-raiser,” as Townsend calls it, helps satisfy each goal Townsend sought through her nonprofit.
Free screening kits will be available at this year’s Bottoms Up Bash to those over 50 through the Wyoming Cancer Consortium.
The group of women that surrounded Townsend started as strangers with stories of family and friends or personal experiences with cancer. Now, her team returns each year, without obligation from Townsend, to help organize the event and promote cancer screenings and early detection for prevention.
“They want to come back and give back because they’re still on their feet; they’re still alive,” Schamber said. “That’s really amazing.”
Townsend and her family transformed dreadful experiences into positive assistance for the community, continuing in the pursuit for early detection of a life-altering and sometimes deadly disease.