Jim Coghlin Sr., chairman of Westborough-based Coghlin Cos., shared his best friend’s grief when Mark Ungerer lost his 15-year-old son, David, to leukemia in 1982. Mark succumbed to multiple myeloma in 1995, and to honor the 10th anniversary of his passing, Coghlin helped fund the Mark Ungerer Fellowship for research relevant to adolescent and young adult cancer causes.
Eight years ago, Coghlin and his family founded the 15-40 Connection after learning that improvements in the cancer survival rate for 15- to 40-year-olds had lagged behind other age groups since 1975.
The Shrewsbury resident’s advocacy for early detection has a personal component, as he survived his own bout with cancer in 2006.
Q. What is the mission of the 15-40 Connection?
A. It’s simple, but not simplistic. The reality is early detection is the best medicine for cancer, so we teach people to recognize potential symptoms and articulate those symptoms effectively to their physician.
Q. Why doesn’t this already happen?
A. People notice symptoms but don’t know what they mean, so they get blamed on diet, aging, or working 50 hours a week – even though they’ve been working 50 hours a week for years with no issues. If your energy level, weight, bowel habits, or anything else causes you to feel differently, and those changes persist for two weeks, that’s your body telling you to talk to your doctor.
Q. Are people sometimes reluctant to have that conversation?
A. Absolutely. They’re busy, so the tendency is to wait until symptoms progress to the point they can’t be ignored anymore. You need to be open and candid with your physician – even if it’s embarrassing – and if you don’t improve, find somebody else. You wouldn’t keep bringing your car back to a mechanic who couldn’t help you, so why would you do that with your body?
Q. How do you get the word out?
A. We’re active on social media, and we have panels of survivors who help us teach schools, businesses, and community groups how to recognize cancer early. Our organization is focused on cancer, but early detection mitigates many life-threatening conditions, and in the process, the cost to cure you or extend your life.
Q. What is your vision for the organization?
A. We’re in the process of developing videos and training techniques to bring across the country. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. When someone thanks you for saving their life, I don’t know what else can top that in a life’s journey.
For more information, visit 15-40.org.
Cindy Cantrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.