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During Joe Wiederholt’s career as a beloved professor in the UW School of Pharmacy, he encouraged his students to work hard and always look beyond what seemed possible.
When his graduate students pitched their research projects, he would challenge them to think about the next steps. And then the steps after that. Go farther. Aim higher.
“Take it all the way to Neptune,” was a favorite saying for Joe, recalled his wife, Peggy Wiederholt.
Joe’s spirit of ambition and innovation is carried on through Team Neptune, the Bowlin’ for Colons fundraising team that Peggy, family, and friends formed after Joe passed away in 2001 from colon cancer.
Bowlin’ for Colons is an annual tournament held at several area bowling alleys to raise money for colon cancer research at UW Carbone Cancer Center. This year’s event takes place March 12.
Since the first event in 2001, Bowlin’ for Colons has raised more than $1 million for colon cancer research. This year’s goal is to raise $85,000.
Team Neptune is among the longest-running teams to participate in the event, and Peggy is proud to do everything she can to support prevention and treatment.
“Important advances have been made, but there is still a ways to go, and I would like to see it reach the point where we have a cure for colon cancer,” Peggy said.
Joe Wiederholt was 45 when he noticed sudden, concerning blood in his bowel movements. A colonoscopy confirmed he had stage 3b colon cancer. The diagnosis was surprising, given Joe’s age and otherwise good health. He had no family history of the disease.
Joe immediately had surgery to remove cancerous tissue, and he received weekly chemotherapy treatments for a year. During this time, Joe still taught classes and worked his experience into his lessons. Joe’s research and expertise focused on medication side-effects, and he was a strong believer in patient advocacy.
“Joe shared his treatment and personal perspectives with his students in the classroom,” Peggy said. “It was always important for him to use everything he experienced to teach others.”
Joe also kept track of his symptoms, side effects, and feelings, which helped him during conversations with his oncologist. He decided to write a book, “The WriteTrack: Personal Health Tracker for Cancer Patients,” with the assistance and support of a pharmaceutical company, as a guide to help fellow cancer patients navigate their treatments and better advocate for their needs.
“The WriteTrack” has been distributed to tens of thousands of patients over the years,” Peggy said of the book, which she helped revise for newer editions (the book is no longer available for purchase).
Joe spent about five years cancer-free before the disease returned and eventually metastasized. He passed away in May 2001 at age 51.
Since they first formed Team Neptune in 2003, Peggy said they have enjoyed the family atmosphere and tradition of Bowlin’ for Colons.
“The thing that's been really fun is to see how the young children of some of the families who started out on our team have grown and blossomed, with some graduating from college and even planning to get married. It is even a greater thrill to see my grandchildren become a part of this event!”
Peggy and her two children are very vigilant about their colon health and have regular colonoscopies. In addition to Joe’s diagnosis, Peggy’s father, four uncles and her maternal grandmother had gastrointestinal cancers.
Current CDC guidelines recommend regular colon cancer screenings starting at age 45, but those with higher risk factors, including family history of colon cancer, should discuss earlier screenings with a physician.
“It’s really critical for younger people to be aware of their risks,” Peggy said. “If it can happen to Joe, it can happen to anybody.”