In the year and a half that Joanna Dranikoff of Millburn fought colon cancer, her battle cry became “March forth!”
This rallying attitude encouraged her — as well her husband, Lee, and their children, Jeremy, Rebecca, and Abby — to keep putting one foot in front of the other during that terrible time.
The phrase took on added significance when Ms. Dranikoff died on March 4, 2016, at the age of 48. She was one of 52,286 Americans who died of colon cancer that year.
In 2018, Rebecca Dranikoff spearheaded a fundraising walk and run in her mother’s memory. Fittingly, she chose to hold the annual race on the Sunday closest to March 4. The fifth annual March Fourth for Colon Cancer Prevention is scheduled for March 6, stepping off at 9 a.m. from the corner of Brookside Drive and Glen Avenue in Millburn.
Over the previous four March Fourths, more than 1,000 participants have raised almost $200,000 for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance — the largest and oldest colorectal cancer nonprofit organization in the United States — and the March Fourth Foundation, a branch of the CCA dedicated to colorectal cancer awareness and prevention.
“We do this because colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but it’s not widely spoken about,” Rebecca said.
“Many people are hesitant or even disgusted by the idea of getting screened, but it’s really important for anyone older than 45, or younger for people with certain health issues.”
At 18, Rebecca is a senior at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, where she leads the RKYHS Kids Against Cancer Club.
“We are also working with the students at Millburn High School in their Kids Against Cancer Club run by my younger sister,” she said. Abby, a 16-year-old sophomore, is social media director for the annual event.
March Fourth is a family affair aided by a team of community members and friends.
Jeremy Dranikoff, a 20-year-old Northeastern University student, handles the run’s marketing. The siblings’ father, Lee, heads the financial side by organizing giveaways and partnerships and tracking expenses and donations.
This year’s March Fourth sponsors include the CCA, Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, the Summit Dog & Cat Hospital, and Affiliates in Gastroenterology of West Orange and Morristown.
“We have had a ton of community support guiding us through this process,” Rebecca said.
“Last year we had over 350 people attend and raised over $70,000 for colorectal cancer prevention and this year we hope to crush those numbers,” she added.
“This year we are adding a dog walk after the 5K because we wanted to bring in a different group of people outside of our circle of friends.”
Registrants can choose to participate in one or both walks for the same $35 fee.
Although the dog walk will be a welcome addition to March Forth this year, you don’t have to be a dog owner to take part, Rebecca stressed. She also noted that people can donate without participating in either the walk or the run, and there is no minimum amount that must be raised.
A representative of Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center will be at the run, providing eligible participants with FIT home screening kits for colorectal cancer testing.
Rebecca noted that colon cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
“Our goal is to save 100,000 lives over the next 10 years, and we can do it,” she said. “If you are 45 years old and have not been screened yet, if you are younger and have a history of colon cancer, or if you have any symptoms, please get screened and keep yourself safe.”
According to the CCA, those symptoms typically include:
• Changing bowel habits such as intermittent or constant diarrhea and/or constipation, a change in stool consistency, or stools that are more narrow than usual.
• Persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas, or pain; a feeling of fullness or bloating; or a feeling that the bowel is not completely empty.
• Blood in or on the stool.
• Weakness and/or fatigue, which may be accompanied by anemia or a low red blood cell count.
• Unexplained weight loss.
• Nausea and/or vomiting.
There is more information on March Fourth at www.marchfourth.org/