Katie Couric and Daughter Ellie Join Forces to Urge Younger People to Screen for Colon Cancer
The newest Cologuard commercial is a family affair for Katie Couric.
From March 7, the former Today co-host will be back on TV screens promoting a cause that's close to her heart — urging people to get screened for colon cancer. But this time she's doing it with her daughter Ellie Monahan by her side.
It's all part of the duo's bid to prevent other families from suffering the loss that they felt when Couric's husband Jay Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998 at the age of 42.
"I wish he could have seen our daughter Ellie get married on the best day of her life, but colon cancer took him from us…" Couric, 65, says in the commercial, which you can see above in PEOPLE's exclusive first look. It is timed to air during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
"Carrie would have been in it as well, but she couldn't get out to the west coast," she tells PEOPLE, referring to her younger daughter, while explaining why Ellie decided to be in the commercial with her, as part of her Mission to Screen campaign.
"One of the reasons is that there are so many people needlessly missing these major milestones in the lives of people they love. And, of course, when anything happens with my girls, I think, 'I wish Jay could see them go to the prom. I wish Jay could see them graduate from college…' He would be so proud of them. I wish Jay could have walked Ellie down the aisle."
Ron Galella/getty Katie Couric with her first husband, Jay Monahan, who died of colon cancer at the age of 42 in 1998.
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Couric adds: "I think the message we're trying to say is, you don't have to miss these extraordinary life affirming moments, because you were diagnosed with colon cancer. You can detect it early, and it can be treated and prevented."
Twenty-two years ago, Couric used her nationwide platform to raise awareness of the importance of getting checked for colon cancer by having a colonoscopy on-air on Today. Now, she and Ellie are telling people that getting screened can be as simple as taking a stool sample at home and mailing it to a lab for testing.
There's a real urgency now as the disease is increasingly affecting younger people, prompting the American Cancer Society to recommend that people with average risk start getting screened from the age of 45, rather than 50.
"We've seen a dramatic and disturbing rise in the incidents of colorectal cancer cases in people under the age of 50," Couric says. "And the American Cancer Society, as well as some other professional organizations, [lowered] the [recommended] age for your first colorectal cancer screening to 45."
Kate T. Parker Katie and her daughter Ellie Monahan both appear in the new Cologuard TV commercial.
Cologuard's commercials featuring their animated cardboard box are a regular fixture on TV. But people shouldn't feel queasy about taking a stool sample at home and mailing it into a lab for testing, Couric insists.
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"It's a lot less icky than being diagnosed with colorectal cancer and having to go through weeks, months, potentially years of treatment," she says, adding, "I think about the over 150,000 people who are diagnosed with colon cancer every year, and I think they would give anything to have it detected at its earliest stage." (Of those diagnosed each year, around 50,000 succumb to the cancer.)
Sadly, even if the latest screening guidelines had been in place in the 1990s, it wouldn't have saved Monahan who was 41 when he was diagnosed. That's why Couric suggests that people be mindful of warning signs and possible symptoms of the disease, regardless of their age.
"My daughters, for example, will need to be screened for colon cancer 10 years prior to when their dad was diagnosed," Couric says of Ellie and Carrie, 26. "But also symptoms like a change in bowel habits, blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss… If you're bloated. All those things, everybody needs to be aware of."
Brian Dorsey Katie with her daughters Ellie and Carrie on Ellie's 2021 wedding day.
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Mission to Screen is just the latest in Couric's decades-long commitment to raising awareness of the disease that robbed her of her husband and her daughters of their father.
"When this happened to Jay, I made it my personal mission to do everything I could to spare other families from going through what ours did," she says. "I made it my mission to educate people about this disease, and to destigmatize and demystify the screening."