Harry Connick, Jr. found fame with his music, and his celebrity grew even larger when he became a television star. Now he’s using his voice to tell the world about something very important to him and his family. Harry and his wife Jill have become advocates for The New 50, an initiative to raise awareness about screenings for colorectal cancer for people aged 50 and over. Jill and Harry hosted a successful event at the House of Blues to promote the use of Cologuard to get screened for the cancer, and their taking their show on the road to other cities in the hopes that more people will get screened so that they can identify and cure colorectal cancer in its early stages. I spoke with Harry and Jill about why their so passionate about getting screen early.
Emily: When I heard about this opportunity to talk to y'all especially about cancer screenings it hit me pretty close to home because my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, and my father got diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer about a year ago. I've been learning so much about it, learning about not just screenings but new treatments coming out, new drugs, the life expectancy. There's just so much going on in cancer treatment and prevention these days.
Harry: Jill was really adamant about early detection and would always go to get her a mammogram, sonogram regularly. And now that I turned 50, getting screened for colon cancer is, to be quite honest, something that I didn't want to do because all I knew about was colonoscopy. I found out about Cologuard, and it applied to both of us: over 50 and at average risk. And it's so easy to do. It takes absolutely no time, and it is covered by most insurance policies. And you know we're just here to tell people that you know they should talk to their health care provider. Because, as you know and as we know, it's not something the tangle with. Get out there and get screened early because 90 percent of colon cancer can be treated if they're detected early.
Emily: Do you feel that people are more apt to talk about cancer nowadays maybe than they were previously, or that they're more comfortable with talking about it with their doctors than they used to be?
Harry: I think so, especially colon cancer. I mean when you say the phrase colorectal cancer... I can see sometimes people don't want to talk about that. It's embarrassing. Let's get that out of the way. You know what's really hard to talk about is what happens if you don't get screened early. So let's demystify it. Let's bring some life to it. You know some humor to it and say that this is something that's really important and making it open family discussion because ultimately, it trumps everything. It's more important than your career, it's more important than anything. Your health is really all you have. There's a web site New50.com and the campaign is called New 50. All of the information that you might want to know about colon cancer and about Cologuard is on that web site. It's a terrific web site. I get asked a lot of questions and I'm happy to share the information that I have. But all of the information that you need is on that Web site.
Emily: So tell me about what people can expect at the event tonight and how your previous events have gone.
Harry: It's a conversation, and it's getting to know people in the community that are interested in finding out answers to questions that they have about colon cancer. And there are many, and the questions are very varied. You know Jill and I have answers based on our personal experience, but there'll also be a physician there to answer a lot of questions. Everyone's curious. Listen we're in the public eye. And I think a lot of people out there admire Jill, and when they realize it you know Jill's in the same boat as them. I'm in the same boat with them, I think it's comforting to know that we're all in this together. You know we're in the public eye and you know we're going through the same thing everybody else going through. And that's what we've experienced in the past cities and I'm sure we'll will be no different here.
Emily: Have y'all heard about any success stories like someone did learn about getting screened for colon cancer at one of your events that might have prevented something?
Harry: The events happened so recently that it hasn't gotten back to us. But you know when I was with Jill on the show The Harry Show and Jill talked about getting early detection with breast cancer with mammograms and sonograms. I can't count the times that people either wrote in or came up and said, "We saw the show. I didn't know I was supposed to get a sonogram. I went in they found a tumor I had surgery the next day." We heard that so much. I mean people would come up to me in the audience and tell me that... The Cologuard stuff is so new just started this. I'm thankful to Cologuard because of the test. Thankfully my tests were negative. Jill thankful so hopefully we'll start hearing more and more of those stories.
Emily: You've get a few cities coming up, but New Orleans is, as you probably know because you've been here most of your life, is a very different place. We have a different culture, and we are exceptionally unhealthy in our lifestyles especially with alcohol and that can affect so many of the organs in your body in a negative way. Do you think that it's going to be a harder sell to New Orleanians?
Harry: You know I think you're right I think you're right. All I can speak of with certainty is that New Orleans comes in third from the bottom with regard to colon cancer screenings. I'm sure that it's probably a similar case with regard to other types of cancer screenings too. And we love fried fatty foods here. I mean that's why you know we love that stuff. And I try to moderate what I eat. You know I personally don't drink. But there's a lot of alcohol down here in a lot of bad food, and I think health is paramount. And in this small sort of sliver of health that we're talking about we hope that we can maybe inspire some people to go get screened early because it's really important.
Emily: Is there anything else you'd like to say or talk about?
Harry: We're just excited. You know Jill and I, we're really comfortable talking to people and you know when Jill speaks, when I look out over the crowd and I see you know interest and concern on the faces of the people because they're hearing stories that they can relate to. And you know I'm honored to be up here with my personal number one favorite cancer survivor. And I'm just glad... She's so giving of her time and you know I just try to get out there with her and get some people who get screened, man, that's why we're here.
Emily: Do you find that women are comfortable talking to you after you've been on stage talking about things?
Jill: I get a lot of e-mails. People come up to me, just random people, and say how I inspired them to get early screened. Many people coming up to me, I'm actually surprised. It's great. It's nice. Some women need to talk about that.
If you missed Harry this time around, he will be back in December to close out the city’s tricentennial year with a special concert. He will be performing at the UNO Lakefront Arena on December 15, just one stop in a worldwide tour that will bring New Orleans music to the ears of people across the globe. The show’s proceeds will go to benefit the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music which he co-founded.