Molly McMaster Morgoslepov, Capital Region native and co-owner of Saratoga Ninja Lab in Malta, didn’t think she’d spend her 23rd birthday in a hospital bed. It was February 1999, and Morgoslepov had just received the terrifying news that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. At the time, her surgeon told her that she was probably the youngest person in the country—maybe even the world—to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, which usually occurs in people older than 50 (though the number of young adults with colon cancer has risen in recent years).
Thankfully, Morgoslepov survived cancer and now, two decades later, has published her first book, One Drop of Rain: Creating a Wave of Colon Cancer Awareness, which chronicles not only her first 22 years of being cancer free, but also the two decades following her diagnosis (and going into remission), raising colon cancer awareness. “Since the 4th grade I’ve wanted to be a writer,” says Morgoslepov, who spent a staggering 20 years working on the book, which was edited by saratoga living Contributing Editor Karen Bjornland. “In a way, I’m glad it took that long, because it didn’t feel like the right time to finish it until now.”
The book retells Morgoslepov’s journey from colon cancer survivor to inspiring advocate, traveling across the country and finding creative ways to raise awareness for a disease that isn’t the most talked-about forms of cancer. “At the time, I thought I was just doing something to raise awareness,” says Morgoslepov. “Twenty years later, I’m looking back on it and realizing that I had all these amazing opportunities that enabled me to turn something really, really bad into something awesome, something positive.”
Largely because of her own embarrassment and experience in talking about colorectal cancer, Morgoslepov became determined to spread the word about the disease—but in ways that would really engage people. The first event she planned was Rolling to Recovery, an inline skating trip in 2000 from Saratoga Springs to Greeley, CO, a trek (or skate) of more than 2000 miles. Along the way, Morgoslepov got an email from a young woman in Little Rock, AR named Amanda Sherwood. Only 24 at the time, Sherwood had just been diagnosed with colon cancer. The two soon became close, bonding over their shared experience. Sherwood found Morgoslepov’s story inspirational and nominated her to carry the 2002 Winter Olympics torch when it passed through Saratoga on its way to Salt Lake City, an honor that Morgoslepov ended up winning. Before the torch-carry, which took place on December 30, 2001, Morgoslepov, along with Sherwood, got to tell their stories on the Today show with Katie Couric, whose husband had died of colon cancer in 1998. Sherwood, unfortunately, was too sick to travel for the interview and had to do it via satellite from her home in AR. After the interview, Couric told Morgoslepov that if she could come up with another colon cancer awareness-related event for March (Colon Cancer Awareness Month), then she’d have her back on the show. “I started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do now that I have this incredible vehicle where millions of people will see what I’m doing?'” recalls Morgoslepov.
While brainstorming for another way to get on the Today show and just two days after Morgoslepov’s torch-carrying moment, her friend, Sherwood, passed away. It was a devastating loss for Morgoslepov. “During the course of our friendship, I’d promised her that I would keep raising awareness for both of us,” she says. Out of her grief and anger, Morgoslepov came up with the idea of embracing the awkwardness and embarrassment of talking about the disease by creating the Colossal Colon, a 40-foot-long, 4-foot-tall explorable replica of a human colon (it was built by Adirondack Studios in Argyle, featured in last year’s saratoga living Design Issue). Capital Region residents might remember the Colossal Colon being displayed for a month at Aviation Mall in Queensbury. Couric also made good on her word, inviting Morgoslepov back on Today with the Colossal Colon, and, in 2003, Morgoslepov took the large-scale replica on a national tour of 20 different cities, including an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. (The Colossal Colon has since made cameos all over the country—and even one on an episode of A&E’s Shipping Wars – see above.)
Near the end of her 2003 tour, Morgoslepov and Sherwood’s cousin Hannah Vogler founded the Colon Club, a national nonprofit dedicated to raising colon cancer awareness, especially for a younger audience. Since 2004, one of the Colon Club’s most successful efforts has been the production of “Colondars,” that is, calendars featuring young colorectal cancer survivors. Fifteen years after the first of the Colondars, which were designed by Troy Burns of Graphic Acuity in Glens Falls, they’ve turned into a print magazine called On the Rise, which focuses on young people dealing with colorectal cancer diagnoses. The magazine released its first issue on March 1, 2019, just a couple of weeks after Morgoslepov’s One Drop of Rain published.
It’s already been an incredibly busy year for Morgoslepov, but she’s never forgotten that initial promise she made to her friend Sherwood. “In a way, the release of One Drop of Rain is kind of my way of continuing to raise awareness,” says Morgoslepov. “I feel like every time we’ve done another project, someone has reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I got a colonoscopy because of you, and it saved my life.’ And that’s what it’s all about.”