The opportunity to speak to your elected officials — in Washington, D.C., no less — is something not everyone is asked to do.
When Rob Vite got that opportunity, he didn't hesitate. He headed east from March 18-23 to speak to Wisconsin elected officials about cancer, diet and preventive health care.
"It was a life-changing event," Vite said. "An emotional roller coaster,"
Vite is a 35-year-old math teacher at Wauwatosa Whitman Middle School, father of two and a football coach at Waukesha West. He is also a member of the advocacy group The Colon Club and a spokesman for colorectal health for everyone.
As a Stage 2 colon cancer survivor, Vite was recently featured in The Colon Club's publication, "On The Rise," distributed in medical and treatment facilities across the U.S. and to offices on Capitol Hill.
Vite was chosen to represent The Colon Club and was one of 150 ambassadors who share their personal stories and advocate for their causes. His inspirational story is indicative of the denial and doubt that often accompanies a cancer diagnosis. Newly diagnosed, he even kept the news from his wife, Jade. He learned he had cancer shortly after losing his mother to multiple sclerosis and while his wife was pregnant with the couple's second child.
After two days of preparation in D.C. he appeared before members of Sen. Ron Johnson's staff, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Reps. Glenn Grothman and James Sensenbrenner. Johnson was absent because weather conditions prevented him from making a scheduled flight to D.C.
Vite gave the politicians an autographed copy of the magazine with his profile in it, and shared with them the story of his fight with the disease in an effort to break the ice. The main message Vite wanted to leave with them was the need for the healthcare system to encourage colonoscopies and screening as preventive care.
"I asked them to picture a plane crash where everyone died," Vite said. "When that happens, we stop everything to figure out what happened. When it comes to colon cancer we don't do this, and people are dying."
Vite said his organization's goal is to get cancer screening done on 80 percent of people age 50 and older. The recent attempt by Congress to overhaul the national health care plan would not have assisted Vite with his fight, but even the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) addresses only parts of the issue.
"One good thing in Obamacare is the provision that does not allow the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions," Vite said. "But the ACA does not address the issue of preventative care."
Vite said that, in general, people hesitate to get a colonoscopy because they are concerned about the possibility of getting a large bill that is not covered by their insurance. He said sometimes during the procedure the doctor discovers a polyp, and that changes the event into being labeled a surgery, which is often not covered.
"People don't want to talk about (getting screened for colon cancer). It's taboo," Vite said. "I am very open in class about this issue. I am here to help kids have a successful life."
Vite also believes that food can contribute to an increase in colon cancer diagnoses and advocates for education on diet. He said that everyone should reconsider how they view what they eat and called it a lifestyle change, not a diet.
He said that the Tosa community has been supportive since he moved here in 2015 and cited a colon cancer research fundraising walk called "Get your rear in gear" as an example of that support. Despite being a man that has recently had 5 1/2 feet of his intestine removed, his passion and energy have remained steady.
"I am not here to just to teach math," Vite said. "When you make a connection with kids, the sky's the limit."