South Jersey women raises $2.5 million over 10 years in the memory of her father and grandfather, both lost to colon cancer

Money raised in her tri-state region is dedicated to spread the word about early detection for colorectal cancer.


PHILADELPHIA, Penn. / MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Nov. 01, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia started in 2009 as grief therapy for a Mount Laurel, NJ resident. To combat the cancer that claimed the lives of her loved ones, Maria Grasso gathered and challenged a few hundred people to “get their rears in gear” during March, national colon cancer awareness month.

Over the next 10 years, this community gathering grew to include than 4,000 people, all impacted by colon cancer. Under Grasso's leadership it has raised over $2.5 million for colorectal cancer education, research, and screening efforts in the City of Brotherly Love.

Greater Philadelphia’s largest colon cancer awareness event will return Sun., March 24, 2019, at Memorial Hall / Please Touch Museum. This 4-mile run, 2-mile walk, and Kids’ Fun Run raises money to increase colon cancer screenings and early detection of the disease, as well as supporting those living with a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Registration for the 11th annual Get Your Rear in Gear run/walk in Philadelphia is now open.

“Unfortunately, my father was a late stage diagnosis and lost his battle after only 10 months. Losing him to colon cancer at the young age of 67 was the worst time of my life,” recalls Grasso. “Initially, I did not see myself as an advocate, I was grieving. Then, after his death, I decided to take the focus off my own grief and attack this disease head on to help others. Now, I produce this annual event in his memory."

Grasso firmly believes that lives can be saved through important conversations and increasing on-time screening for a disease that has a 90% survival rate if found early. “It is critical that we educate on the life-saving importance of colorectal cancer screenings.”

The funds raised from Get Your Rear in Gear – Philadelphia have been used to help address disparities in screening rates for low income and minority populations and fund quality of life research for patients through programs at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s, Division of Colorectal Surgery and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Fox Chase Cancer Center, the American Association for Cancer Research, the University of Pennsylvania/Penn Medicine, and others.

It has been a privilege for Jefferson to partner with Get Your Rear in Gear - Philadelphia from day one,” says Kelly Austin, Director of Development at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center. “The support provided by these grants helps us to do extraordinary, life-saving work.”

“We are grateful to Get Your Rear in Gear - Philadelphia for supporting the research at Fox Chase Cancer Center that improves the quality of life for colon and rectal cancer patients,” said Dr. Jeffrey Farma at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “This partnership is helping to improve outcomes not just for Philadelphia residents, but for colorectal cancer patients across the country.”  

Funding is also extended in the form of travel grants to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for young colon cancer research scholars to attend AACR’s annual meeting, the world’s foremost gathering of scientists dedicated to preventing and curing cancer through research, education, communication, collaboration, funding and advocacy.

“We are so thankful for the work Maria Grasso has done in Philadelphia,” said Anne Carlson, President of the Minneapolis-based Colon Cancer Coalition, with whom Grasso connected to start the annual event. “The time she dedicates to colorectal cancer awareness and screening is making an impact in a city with one of the lowest screening rates in the country. Maria has mined the strength and dedication Philadelphians have for helping their neighbors. We look forward to working with her to make an even larger impact in the next decade.”

Four years ago, to tee up even more awareness and support for the main event, Grasso created a companion event known as On the Runway for a Cure, a fashion victory show featuring survivors and caregivers as models. This event highlights the survivors and allows them the opportunity to feel strong, stand tall, look good and most importantly…show that this disease has not beaten them. It is powerfully inspirational.

2019 is the 11th year that the colon cancer community will gather in Philadelphia to celebrate patients, survivors and caregivers, and to remember those who left us too soon. They will be able to walk the Blue Mile filled with tributes to those lost to colon and rectal cancer or visit the giant inflatable colon to see what a doctor sees during a colonoscopy – a healthy colon wall and how a polyp progresses from benign into Stage IV colorectal cancer. There will be an educational pavilion, live music and most of all, hope. 

Registration is available at Information about volunteering, fundraising, sponsoring the event, or forming a team can also be found on the website.  

About the Colon Cancer Coalition / Get Your Rear in Gear®
The Colon Cancer Coalition is a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, Minn. dedicated to encouraging screening and raising awareness of colon cancer. The organization’s signature Get Your Rear in Gear® and Tour de Tush® event series are volunteer-driven in communities throughout the United States. In 2017 the Colon Cancer Coalition granted over $1 million dollars to local communities that will build and sustain programs promoting early prevention, screening, and patient support services for this disease. By making the words coloncolorectal and colonoscopy a part of the everyday language, we believe we can overcome the fear and decrease deaths from this largely preventable cancer. For more information visit


Maria Grasso at Get Your Rear in Gear - Philadelphia in 2018
Photo credit: Bonnie Grant Maria Grasso and her brother Mark Hepperlen both understand the importance of screening for colorectal cancer.
Photo credit: Bonnie Grant

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