It may not get much press, but uterine cancer occurs more frequently in women than the public may realize. Cancer.net provides some troubling statistics about the disease, stating, “This year, an estimated 66,570 people in the United States will be diagnosed with uterine, or endometrial, cancer. Uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer for women in the United States.”
Based in Nashville, TeamCJColas (Team CJ) is a 501(c)3 cancer support group for women battling uterine cancer. According to the nonprofit’s website, “all programs are to support patients, survivors, caregivers, friends and family members at free of charge among the services now offered at TeamCJColas Uterine Cancer Support Group.” The organization’s belief is stated thusly: “We believe all women can embrace who they are, can define their future, and can change the world.”
Founder of the organization CJ Colas was diagnosed with stage III uterine cancer in 2016. She tells Launch Engine that just like with any other illness, there’s a research period for many following their diagnosis. This is motivated by a desire to learn as much as one can so that they may better their odds of survival.
“You do background on it to see what you can do yourself at home…” CJ explains. “When I learned I had uterine cancer—by the time I got the news—it had already spread to my lungs.”
Terrified, CJ began searching the internet to learn anything she could about her condition. However, despite all her efforts, she managed to uncover only a few resources. It was at this moment that she knew she was in the peculiar position of having a very common disease that lacked a readily available source for information and resources.
CJ spoke to her doctor. Thankfully, she was finally able to get far more information from the one-on-one consultation than she had managed to collect online. This was strange to CJ, since to her mind the internet is an online community that includes disease experts. For CJ, the very idea that access to information about a disease might be limited to an in-person doctor visit—and not being publicly available in an era where even refrigerators could connect to the internet—seemed ludicrous. What’s more, she noticed that certain cancers got attention from the public, meaning that there was some sort of playbook people could borrow on how to publicize relevant information or advice on how to deal with uterine cancer.
“You hear everything about ovarian cancer,” CJ says, “but so little information about uterine cancer. So I felt like it’s something I want to bring awareness to.”
In 2017, with this as her driving motivation, CJ created a website that was a portal to connect her with others facing uterine cancer. The goal was to educate them—since there was so little information readily available. Clearly, there was a need because after her website launched, CJ was hit with a deluge of inquiries or heartfelt messages.
While running her initial website, CJ continued her own research on uterine cancer. She learned that while Caucasian women over 55 are more likely to get uterine cancer, more Black Americans are dying from the disease than their counterparts. CJ attributes this directly to the lack of awareness and information about uterine cancer, which she links to people being misdiagnosed because uterine cancer is not easily detected.
Part of CJ’s cancer recovery journey included an emergency hysterectomy to prevent the cancer from spreading to her brain. Afterward, she received chemotherapy and radiation treatment. With such major treatments in rapid succession, CJ wanted to use her story to help others. She blogged about her treatments and continued to build her base.
CJ’s ongoing treatments gave her insight into what the lack of awareness meant for those in the uterine cancer community. She had a support system of caring family members, friends, and co-workers to help her when she needed them, but CJ observed that other women weren’t as blessed as she was. As a result, CJ befriended people while they waited for rides to the treatment facility, and gave many of them a lift when she could. It is for this reason that TeamCJ raises funds for things like a transportation van or a facility where people can rest between treatments.
CJ tells Launch Engine that there are plenty of cancer support groups for those generally dealing with cancer. However, such groups lack the specific knowledge of what those dealing specifically with uterine cancer might be going through.
“There are a lot of women who feel like, ‘Okay, I don’t want to discuss my issues with uterine cancer or how I was diagnosed with a bunch of strangers,” CJ explains. Women facing gender-specific cancers might not feel comfortable discussing their fight, or how it affects their womanhood with others not part of that tribe. “Some people want something more private pertaining to their illness, their particular illness.”
CJ did what she could outside of formalizing her efforts into a nonprofit. She did things such as creating a private Facebook group for uterine cancer patients and survivors, raising funds, and bringing awareness of the disease to the general public. These things definitely made a dent in an aspect of healthcare that didn’t get much attention. Everyone appreciated what she did, but she knew that there was still so much work to be done.
“A friend of mine who I grew up with said, ‘You know, you’re really passionate about this. You should maybe create a foundation,’” CJ recalls. When she heard this, CJ felt overwhelmed. She had no formal knowledge for how one might go about forming a nonprofit. Furthermore, she didn’t know how one was supposed to function. Just like with her cancer treatments, though, CJ figured out that she could make it work. It was just something that she had to do.
In creating a nonprofit, CJ was able to form a board of directors, hold annual fundraising galas, and tap into a network of volunteers. At the time of writing, TeamCJ has over 40 members, a group that CJ shares has grown into a small community.
“Every year it’s growing, to where we are giving more and more things out,” she says. Some of the more recent activities of TeamCJ included donations of COVID safety supplies, annual uterine cancer screenings, and general checkups, courtesy of partnering facilities interested in early detection of female health issues.
CJ has remained busy through COVID-19. In terms of content, she wants to extend her platform to podcasting. She’s also seeking donations from area van dealerships to get a fleet of TeamCJ vehicles as part of a patient ride-share system. In November, the organization was able to give out 200 donated turkeys for Thanksgiving. TeamCJ is planning its annual gala for September in honor of “Uterine Cancer Awareness Month.”
CJ continues to survive as she undergoes her cancer journey, making through her treatments in a better fashion than others. Her time of uncertainty and fear made an impression on her, as it’s a little known rite of passage that changes women’s lives forever.
“Thankfully, I didn’t really need a lot of help… But when I saw other women, other people, who were going through situations where they can’t afford a prescription drug or some of them didn’t have transportation, or some of them felt like, ‘Oh my God! Should I choose between buying my prescription and buying food?’ I thought ‘Well, maybe I can help,’” CJ recalls.
For further information about TeamCJColas, be sure to visit its website and social media.