How glamour shots — and smart advocacy — are changing the image of young cancer patients

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Christopher Roberts of New York City was diagnosed at age 28 with stage IV colon cancer. He is one of a dozen young colorectal cancer survivors featured in On the Rise magazine.

In 2003, a trio of twentysomething women joked about how cool it would be to create a calendar featuring 12 of their fabulous BFFs — while challenging the assumption that colon cancer affects only old people.

That brainstorm led the Colon Club, a nonprofit support and advocacy group, to launch the “Colondar” in 2005. Over time, it morphed into On the Rise magazine, a glossy annual publication that features the stories of a dozen survivors under age 50.

They “bare their scars and share their journeys as they navigate obstacles such as completing college, dating, fertility issues, body image, lifelong bowel issues, ostomy, clinical trials, and physical and emotional trauma,” says the Colon Club website, where the 2017 issue can be ordered for $10.

Josh Lambeth of Wilmington, NC, diagnosed at age 31 with stage II colon cancer. (Mark McCarty/The Colon Club)

The name of the magazine alludes both to the rising rates of colorectal cancer among people many think are too young to worry about it, and their indomitable spirits, said Colon Club president Krista Wilson of Evansville, Ill. The club distributes the magazine to hospitals, medical conferences, and colleges, and during lobbying on Capitol Hill.

The featured survivors spend a long weekend together at a resort, getting the royal treatment from makeup artists and photographers who donate their services.

Abbey Schnell of Lincoln, NE, diagnosed at age 25 with stage IV rectal cancer. (Mark McCarty/The Colon Club)

“They realize that, ‘Hey! I’m not the only one!’ ” Wilson said. “They are transformed into advocates — learning to tell their stories, share their journeys, and use their voices to give hope and inspiration to other young adults living with colorectal cancer.”