The ‘Big 3-0’

tporter@lsjournal.comDecember 11, 2013 

Danielle Ripley-Burgess of Lee’s Summit will celebrate her 30th birthday Dec. 14 with a party presented by The Colon Club. Ripley-Burgess is a two-time colon cancer survivor who was first diagnosed at age 17 then eight years later at age 25. Donations made during the celebration will benefit The Colon Club, a non-profit organization that raises awareness about the cancer.

<MODIFY>TORIANO PORTER</MODIFY>/ — the Journal

Danielle Ripley-Burgess frets turning 30.

It’s not that she feels old – the two-time colon cancer survivor is blessed to see another birthday. For Ripley-Burgess, leaving her 20s behind has brought on a whole new dimension to her existence.

Ripley-Burgess, a Lee’s Summit native who was diagnosed with colon cancer a few weeks after her 17th birthday and again at age 25, will celebrate ‘The Big 3-0’ from 2-5 p.m. Dec. 14 at New Summit Church, 1800 N.E. Independence Ave. in Lee’s Summit.

The celebration will include live music, a silent auction, cookies and cupcakes and an appearance from CoCo the Colossal Colon, a 40-foot long, 4-foot tall crawl-through replica of the human colon.

The replica colon is a traveling cancer awareness exhibit that has been featured on The Today Show, The Daily Show with John Stewart and will have an upcoming appearance on A&E’s Shipping Wars reality show. Dec. 14’s appearance will mark CoCo’s first showing in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

“I’m celebrating turning 30 because I’ve beat (colon cancer) twice,” Ripley-Burgess said Dec. 9. “I was diagnosed at 17, which is really young. Even in your 20s and 30s, it’s really uncommon…but it can happen to people under 50.”

A 2002 graduate of Lee’s Summit North High School and a 2005 graduate of the University of Central Missouri, the public relations professional works as director of communications for the national nonprofit Fight Colorectal Cancer based in Washington, D.C.

Ripley-Burgess, who works from home, has Lynch Syndrome, a genetic disease that puts her at a high risk for colorectal cancer, among others. Now cancer-free, she also volunteers for and serves on the board of directors of the Colon Club, the group that manages the Colossal Colon, and presenter of Ripley-Burgess’s birthday party.

“I thought I would do something fun for my 30th and this is another one of our projects; this huge colon,” Ripley-Burgess said of a birthday party that will also include a meet and greet with past and present Colondar models and testimonials from colon cancer survivors.

Colonder is a yearly calendar featuring colon cancer survivors for which Ripley-Burgess once modeled. Donations received during the party will benefit the Colon Club, also a national not-for-profit organization that Ripley Burgess volunteers for doing PR work.

“The Colossal Colon has visited cities all across the U.S. and we are excited it’s coming to Kansas City for the first time,” said Krista Waller, president of the Colon Club. “Not only is it a great way to educate the community, but it’s a great way to wish Danielle a happy birthday.”

Having been diagnosed twice with colon cancer, Ripley-Burgess decided back in her teen years that she would be on the frontlines of the battle against cancer; specifically the colon cancer that afflicted her.

Married to husband Mike Burgess, and living happily with 3-year-old daughter Mae, Ripley-Burgess feels with her pending birthday she has reached a point of no return; she is no longer ‘the young kid with colon cancer.’

“I think if there is a blessing in being diagnosed with something like this at 17 is that you are oblivious to the reality of it,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older and had to face it, I see why everyone is so scared for me. When you’re 17, it’s more of an annoyance than a life-threatening situation. I think because I was hit with it when I was still so young I was able to see it as a springboard into new things.

“I have a daughter now, so now I understand the life-threatening part as I get older. Because this has all been through my teens and 20s, it’s kind of like I’ve been looking at it through a different set of lenses as a child. It’s a little bit of an adjustment because I’ve been the young kid with colon cancer for 13 years now. Not that 30 is old, but to be turning 30, I’m not the youngest kid on the block with colon cancer anymore.”

Despite her apprehension of getting older, Riley-Burgess will continue to help spread the word in the fight against colon cancer.

“Don’t ignore your body,” she said of the advice she would offer. “If something doesn’t feel right go with your gut and get it checked out. The second thing is don’t screw around with your own internet research to diagnose yourself. I think a lot of people go online and convinced themselves of what they have, but it really isn’t a substitute for good medical advice.

“My story really hits on teens, because I was a teen and I was so embarrassed. I had all of these symptoms. I try to tell teens don’t be embarrassed by your body. Talk to your parents when things are not normal and find people that you can talk to because some things should not be disregarded.”

Not even a two-time colon cancer survivor’s anxiousness of reaching ‘The Big 3-0.’

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