A Friendship Started a Life-Saving Journey
DetecTogether’s history started as a business relationship when Jim Coghlin Sr., a business leader and philanthropist, met Mark Ungerer. Jim and Mark quickly became the closest of friends. When Mark’s son, David, battled Leukemia, Jim felt his pain. David Ungerer died of cancer at 15 years-old. In his son’s memory, Mark founded a golf tournament in Central Massachusetts to support cancer research and care, and he ran it for many years.
Ten years after David died, Mark himself received a cancer diagnosis. Mark told Jim that he would likely die before Jim did, and asked him to run the tournament if that happened. Mark died in 1995, and Jim made sure the golf tournament continued as an annual event to raise funds and awareness about cancer and renamed it in Mark’s honor.
At the 10th anniversary of Mark’s death, Jim wanted to establish a more permanent reminder of Mark. He met with leaders at a leading academic cancer center, and established a fellowship in Mark’s name to develop future leaders in an area of cancer care and research.
Jim asked that the fellowship be directed at a problem that needed attention and was receiving little. This was a reflection of how Mark used his energies in life. Karen Albritton, MD, shared with Jim data illustrating that improvements in cancer survival rates for teens and young adults, those aged 15 to 40, were not keeping pace with other age groups, and more alarmingly had barely improved since 1975. Dr. Albritton explained that there had not been a specific focus on this age group, and it had “fallen through the cracks.”
Jim remained in contact with Dr. Albritton and kept abreast of advancements. It was Dr. Albritton who shared with Jim a report released jointly from the National Institutes of Health and the Livestrong Foundation. She had been part of a Progress Review Group convened by these two organizations to study why cancer survival rates in this age group were not improving.
The Significance of Delayed Diagnosis
The report revealed that delayed diagnosis was a significant factor. Jim immediately thought “we can do something about that.” He understood that people needed to become aware that those in this age group do get cancer (more than 75,000/year in the US compared to 10,000/year for those under age 15) and about the impact of delayed diagnosis. To reduce the incidence of delayed diagnosis, people needed education.
Jim talked with the cancer center and asked them to build a program that would empower individuals with knowledge to help them recognize cancer symptoms as early as possible. A well-received series of meetings took place, but in the end, the cancer center decided that while the work needed to be done, they could not add to the work they were doing around patient care and research.
Jim looked for an organization to support that was empowering people with knowledge that could help them detect cancer at earlier stages. In the end, he found that there were no organizations focused on education about the life-saving advantage of early detection. Jim and his wife Nancy, with their children, decided they needed to address the problem, and they founded 15-40 Connection.
For the first decade, 15-40 Connection brought its education primarily to schools, colleges, and community organizations, for FREE. As the organization matured, it became clear that ALL people deserved the life-saving advantage of early detection, and their focus broadened, to include workplace presentations and a focus on groups, like firefighters, who are at higher risk of developing cancer because of their occupation.