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Denise Brodey: Given everything you've done to teach people about colon cancer, why now did you take on such an ambitious endeavor as Stand Up To Cancer?
Katie Couric: We've moved the needle a bit in the past few years on this second-leading cancer killer, and I'm proud of that -- the decline in the death rate from 2003 to 2005 was close to 10 percent. Yet colon cancer still takes the lives of almost 50,000 Americans each year, and when you look at cancer as a whole, it claims one person every minute of every day in the U.S. It's a very big problem that demands a big response. I like to paraphrase the movie Network: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." The good news is that scientists are on the cusp of important discoveries, but to continue doing their work, they need additional funding and better ways to work together. That's what Stand Up To Cancer is all about.
DB: How did you arrive at the idea for this campaign?
KC: The notion of asking the networks to do a "roadblock" special [in which the major networks all air the same program at the same time] to support cancer research actually came up during a fund-raising meeting with Lisa Paulsen, the president and CEO of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, when we were brainstorming about how to raise money for our colon cancer initiative. It turned out that other people in the broadcasting industry, as well as foundations in the film and television communities, were working on similar ideas, so we joined forces and were off and running!
DB: How do you take care of your own health with your hectic schedule?
KC: I started doing yoga fairly recently, and it's been a great de-stressor for me. Other than that, I try to exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. My husband, Jay, said something shortly before he died that I always keep top of mind: "Nothing really matters except your family and friends." Finding a healthy balance in life is certainly a challenge for everyone, but I feel best when I spend time with the people I care about.
DB: What advice do you have for readers about reducing their cancer risk?
KC: I'm big on being proactive to safeguard your health. Some cancers, like colorectal, can often be prevented, so regular screening is essential. The single most important thing is to be your own advocate. Don't wait for your doctor to bring up screening tests during your appointment -- you need to be aggressive and ask your physician for them, and then make sure to follow through. And, of course, there are things everyone can do on a daily basis. Eating right, exercising, and not smoking -- either never starting or quitting -- are all crucial for preventive care.
DB: What do you hope people will take away from the Stand Up To Cancer initiative?
KC: Two things: that there is hope, and that they can make a difference. Now more than ever, there is sufficient knowledge of the basic science of cancer, and the technologies are finally available to translate this knowledge into real advances in treatment and prevention. Researchers are on the verge of lifesaving discoveries, but they desperately need the funds required to mount an all-out assault. In one way or another, this disease affects us all, and every person can play a role in helping the research continue to advance. We want everyone who visits our Web site and watches the show on September 5 to feel connected and empowered.
On September 5, 2008, news anchors Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, and Brian Williams will team up for a good cause. Together with entertainment-industry executives, celebrities, and national leaders, they will launch an unprecedented initiative among networks to raise awareness about a disease that kills one American every minute. (FITNESS's parent company, Meredith Corporation, is one of the supporters and media partners of the campaign.)
Stand Up To Cancer kicks off with CBS, ABC, and NBC donating one hour of simultaneous commercial-free programming to raise money for cancer research. Tune in to make a donation, or learn more right here in our directory of FITNESS's favorite charities!
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2008.