In 2013, The Bourbon Mafia was formed when a group of bourbon enthusiasts and industry professionals came together in their search for rare bourbon. About a year in, they realized that they could utilize their platform to raise money for causes that are near and dear to their hearts. With 42 members spanning 11 U.S. states, and two members in Australia, the organization has raised approximately $150,000 since 2014  for various charities, including the Colon Cancer Foundation (CCF). The Bourbon Mafia raises money through events, including bourbon raffles, dinners, and bottle auctions.

Brian Gelfo, one of the founding members and the  treasurer and secretary of the Bourbon Mafia, spoke with the Colon Cancer Foundation about their organization’s motivation for donating to CCF. Omar Marshall was one of the first classes brought into The Bourbon Mafia. Following his diagnosis of colorectal cancer (CRC) in 2020, he and his wife, Pam Marshall, decided they wanted to raise awareness around this disease. The initial goal of The Bourbon Mafia was to donate in his honor while Omar was still with them. Unfortunately, Omar lost his battle with CRC on January 18, 2021.

Robert Diaz (second from left) receiving a donation from The Bourbon Mafia on behalf of the Colon Cancer Foundation.

Nevertheless, a $30,000 donation was made to CCF in April 2021. Before Omar passed, he participated in a selection of a Four Roses Bourbon barrel that would be used for the donation. Mr. Gelfo highlighted an impactful statement by Robert Diaz who represented CCF at the engagement event: “This $30,000 donation can fund 1,000 colon cancer screenings.” Members of The Bourbon Mafia were gratified that their efforts could impact the lives of a thousand people. “Even if one finds out early and gets treated, it’s well worth it,” Mr. Gelfo said. 

According to Mr. Gelfo, many members in the bourbon industry, including fans and supporters, are predominantly older men. Through these events, The Bourbon Mafia hopes to raise awareness in the community for them to get screened.

This year, their event was held on 25th February, 2022, in Louisville, Kentucky, where they expected to raise a minimum of $10,000. Barrels will be hand selected from Starlight Distillery and guests will receive a sample of bourbon, a beer, and a bottle of bourbon to take home. Silent auction items will be donated by Mrs. Marshall and the family as well as other distilleries.

Mr. Marshall was buried on the farm under an oak tree from where he can watch over the farm, as he always wanted to. Mrs. Marshall emphasized the importance of early detection and being proactive for any type of cancer. “The Bourbon Mafia and bourbon itself has brought me into contact with so many wonderful people who share the same passion for bourbon and helping others,” she said.

 

Kenadi Kaewmanaprasert is an intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.

Will Holman is a writer-producer and is the founder of the post-production company Super Star Power Productions. Having lost his dad Willie Holman, and his friend, actor Chadwick Boseman, to colorectal cancer (CRC), Will was inspired to create a non-fungible token (NFT) series in their honor that will be auctioned online starting January 10th, and proceeds from the auction will be donated to charitable causes, including the Colon Cancer Foundation  (CCF). “I wanted to honor Chadwick’s legacy and also give back to the community,” Will told the CCF in an interview.

At 46 years, Will is very aware of his personal risk for CRC. His father, Willie Holman, a football player—defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears—was diagnosed with and died from colon cancer in 2002 at age 57. His family, however, was unaware of his diagnosis. Consequently, Will has started screening himself early. He first got tested at 41 years—the recommendation is to start screening at age 40 or 10 years before your first-degree relative was diagnosed with CRC. The USPSTF recommends that all average-risk adults should initiate screening at 45 years. He is also very conscious of his dietary habits and the important connection between eating healthy and preventive wellness.

Willie Holman was from South Carolina. “A country boy who used to work out a lot but did not know much about health and wellness and what it was to take care of himself,” Will said describing his father’s lifestyle. Being aware of the lineage he carries, Will does not want himself or his children going down that same path. “My father’s experience has a big influence on my healthy lifestyle.”

The risk of colon cancer “is not talked about and dealt with, especially in the black community,” he said.  Will is also aware of the lack of access to healthy food for those living in low-income neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods are identified as “food deserts”: the residents in these areas lack access to supermarkets or food vendors that sell affordable yet nutritious food such as fresh fruits and vegetables. If the residents do not have easy access to transportation, they may not be able to reach supermarkets that sell fresh food and may have to depend on their corner grocery store that sells processed foods that may not be healthy. Research has shown that survival is worse among colorectal cancer patients living in food deserts.

By paying homage to both his father and to Boseman through his digital art pieces, Will hopes to give back to the community via his charitable contribution to CCF.

The NFT collection is available on Opensea and the individual links are below:

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Billy is an artist that has created comics to get through his journey with colon cancer all the while raising funds for the Colon Cancer Foundation;

“Over the past six months, I’ve been dealing with Stage 2 Colon cancer. I decided at the time I wasn’t going to take this lying down. So I got together with some friends and started talking about my situation; and we decided that the best way to go about it was to raise money for a good cause. For research, and to put something together that we can do yearly. 

I’ve had 7 friends get colonoscopies from my experience and 2 came back with cancer. Seeing that was scary enough beyond my own diagnosis at 38, with that being said. This is the hill (beyond animal rescue) that life has given me. And I hope I can do a tremendous amount of good in that time.”

A huge thank you to Billy for sharing his inspiring story. If you are interested in starting your own fundraiser, learn more about it here: https://coloncancerfoundation.org/events/organize-your-own-fundraising-event/?fbclid=IwAR23xzwdF-K8j0t-WETp-gzIjj0j-LpXg49ywZ8g-YQjSM8vK722Mis4h-k

 

 

 

After losing her husband to Early-Age Onset Colon Cancer, Kelli decided to raise funds for the Colon Cancer Foundation and advocate for Colon Cancer awareness in memory of her husband until Colorectal Cancer is just as prominent in our minds as Breast Cancer: 

 

It is my pleasure to push for donations for colon cancer. In January of 2020, my husband(Frank) saw his dr for what we thought was a stomach virus. The doctor was not seeing any real big issue wrote it off as a long-lasting virus but put in an order for ultrasound in February if he wasn’t better by then. A few weeks later (and still having on and off stomach issues) he saw his headache doctor who ran some blood work. A few days later they called us concerned about his liver enzymes. They advised us to pick up a copy of the blood work and see his doctor immediately. His primary doctor was finally as concerned as we were and rushed the ultrasound. Two days later he had it done. I knew something was wrong when they asked him to stay while they called the doctor to gain permission for a CT saying the ultrasound showed “bubbles of gas”. A few hours later with no word we went home. At 10:30 that night his primary doctor called me. He explained that the ultrasound showed several masses and he wanted us to report to the ER for a CT, he hadn’t told my husband yet he called to warn me what was coming before he did. He then called and explained to Frank what the ultrasound showed. The next morning we got the kids to school and headed in for the CT. Dr. Ben (who was amazing)  at Chesapeake General got the unpleasant job of explaining he had cancer and it was not a small version but instead a very big one (stage four) and at the age of 38 with a wife and two kids. This being the spiral of colonoscopy, being moved to the top priority at the oncologist, a tumor sample surgery, and three different types of chemotherapy. The oncologist gave us lots of hope that he would beat it or at least reduce it to an operable size, he easily had about 5 years. Frank started chemo in late March that year and every two weeks he was in the chair for about 5 hours while I was stuck outside due to covid being announced and new policies. In December after no real change other than spreading to now 4 locations, he opted to take a month off. I fully supported him in that as his Birthday and Christmas were coming and he really wanted to go visit family. During December he had fewer symptoms since chemo had left him with neuropathy in his fingers and toes along with hair loss and severe reactions to cold. When we returned after New Years I immediately called the office to request a CT and restart of treatment. The CT revealed more spreading and growing tumors Frank restarted chemo immediately. A new addition to treatment was draining the fluid buildup from his abdomen every week. In the last six months, every genetic test available was run to try and find the cause of his cancer. They all came back with no issues in his genes. After four weeks of treatment and growing reactions, his oncologist called me to discuss his status. The ammonia was building up in his body as his liver was now shutting down and full of tumors. He let me know that Frank had 6-8 weeks left. We chose to call family and advise them to visit but not to tell Frank yet. The doctor ordered a permanent drain to go in. March 8th he had the procedure. On Tuesday he woke up with very diminished brain functioning. We had the hospice team come immediately- the same team that Frank refused for months. Their initial assessment was he had a week maybe two. His brain function cleared up mostly so it restored some hope of a longer time. Friday he was deteriorating again. I had taken care of him in every way in the last month but now he didn’t even have the strength to stand in the shower, or at all really. Sunday, March 14th he woke up with a bit more energy and was insistent on making homemade orange juice downstairs. So I helped him down, cut the oranges and he juiced one and a half before he was exhausted. He rested for a bit while drinking his juice then I helped him back up the stairs. The nurse came to check in and explained to me he was very rapidly slipping away so expect it in the next day or two. We spent that day watching Harry Potter as a family. He dozed on and off but was very clear when awake. Then suddenly he wasn’t. At 10:01 pm he took his last breath with the kids and I surrounded him in love. It was the worst day of our lives, telling him it was ok to let go and how much we loved him watching him slip away in mere hours after he was up and talking. 

He lived a year fighting his best fight and we spent it loving each other more than ever. 

He never had any indications before that thought to be stomach flu. Early testing has to become a routine thing and I plan to advocate and raise funds in his memory until it is just as prominent in our minds as breast cancer. No one should have to go through what we did as a family especially at such a young age.

 

A huge thank you to Kelli for sharing her inspiring story. If you are interested in starting your own fundraiser, learn more about it here: https://coloncancerfoundation.org/events/organize-your-own-fundraising-event/?fbclid=IwAR23xzwdF-K8j0t-WETp-gzIjj0j-LpXg49ywZ8g-YQjSM8vK722Mis4h-k