Author Archive for Melinda Conklin

Screen by 45 to Thrive!

Hitting Cancer Below the Belt (HCB2) enthusiastically supports the current efforts to lower the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 for everyone of average risk. To be clear, the current recommendations state that those in the Black community need to begin screening by age 45 due to the documented, higher risk many face with this disease. The current recommendation for all others of average risk is to begin screening by age 50. 

Regardless of your age, HCB2 actively encourages all community members to be mindful of their GI symptoms and family history. When one is experiencing symptoms such as blood in the stool, thin or flat stools, chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, persistent belly pain or bloating, or loss of weight, it is important to pursue medical attention as soon as possible. Screening also needs to begin earlier if one has a family member who has experienced colorectal cancer or persistently has polyps removed during their routine colonoscopy procedure. Lastly, the age whether 45 or 50 is not the time to just begin thinking about testing, it is the deadline to get the test! Please do not hesitate to talk with your provider and pursue screening by this age or possibly earlier depending on family history and other risk factors. Age should not be the only determiner for early detection.

Why should the recommended screening age for those at average risk be lowered? We know diagnosis of colorectal cancer is rising in younger populations. Recent data reveals men and women born after 1990 are 4x more likely to be diagnosed with rectal cancer and 2x more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer. The statistics have been showing a 44% increase of colorectal cancer diagnoses in people under age 50 since 1996. To add to the urgency, research shows 65% of young people are diagnosed in the later stages where survival from 5 years of diagnosis is an estimated 14%. This late stage diagnosis may be due to a long delay in the initial diagnosis as some may not understand they are at risk for this disease at a young age and their provider may not believe cancer is a possibility either due to an individual’s age.

Who is responsible for the push to lower screening age? Large national organizations have taken notice and are beginning the conversation to lower the colorectal cancer screening age for all of average risk. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the Fight CRC foundation, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation have held meetings to address this critical issue and to enact policy at state levels to increase access to timely colorectal cancer screening. They report Kentucky, Maine, and Indiana have already adopted the American Cancer Society’s guideline to begin screening by age 45 for everyone of average risk. They also affirm the recommendation that higher risk individuals should be screened earlier. Again, knowing your family history and being mindful of your bodily symptoms will help determine what screening schedule, and type of screening test, is best for you. 

Most recently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) drafted new guidelines for screening and now recommends screening begin at age 45, at the latest, for all people. The USPSTF sets these screening guidelines and most insurance companies will adhere to these and other recommendations to cover the cost of preventive screening. Their current recommendation is in draft mode and we eagerly await the final approval in 2021.  

HCB2 gives high priority to the importance of screening and encourages conversation about an  “uncomfortable” subject because we want to create an environment where colorectal cancer diagnosis is significantly reduced due to timely intervention. We have experienced too many stories of young people passing, including beloved 

Rich, Gabe, Neil and Jennifer. We have also had the privilege of working alongside colorectal cancer thrivers like LeAnn, Sarah, John, Kathi, and Sharon and so many more. With their stories and voices, HCB2 actively works to increase timely colorectal cancer screening through our Can We Talk? initiative. This work includes the funding of eight medical clinics and their colorectal cancer screening programs, conducting large community education and screening initiatives, providing risk pre-assessment during appearances with our inflatable colon, giving virtual and on-site presentations for civic groups, businesses, schools, and small groups, and last, but not least creating Public Service Announcements/PSAs and podcasts for those in the Central VA area and beyond.

Can We Talk? was created because of the silence that persists around colorectal cancer. The symptoms are often silent. The patient experiencing symptoms may be silent because it can be generally uncomfortable or embarrassing to discuss, even with their medical provider. The provider may be silent about recommending screening and sharing screening options with the patient due to too little time and inadvertently overlooking symptoms and risks in younger people.This has got to stop! No matter the recommended screening age adopted by each state, colorectal cancer will continue to take loved ones lives if the silence is not broken. HCB2 has identified this challenge and takes steps in every program, service, and educational message to break through the wall of silence and move people to become more proactive with their wellness. We hope to keep this conversation going with you. Leave a comment and let us know how we can serve you and our community.

This information is provided as part of our Can We Talk? initiative. To learn more, click here.

We want you to Fight Right! What exactly does this mean?


Why does HCB2 focus on cancer prevention and use the phrase, let’s “Fight Right”? Two stories led us to the creation of the Fight Right initiative! 

First, several years ago an early morning show began a cancer awareness segment. To highlight the successes of research and treatment for one particular cancer, the guests included cancer survivors – many of them in early remission. So how did they honor and celebrate the survivors and the advances in medicine? They honored the achievements by bringing out a huge cake. Cake was served to honor those who had just completed their treatment. It was hard to watch many of these women, who had lost their hair throughout their courageous journey, served large pieces of cake. Why does this matter? Well, to start, our bodies simply do not need added sugars to live, especially not in the amounts often consumed in the modern American diet.

The second example was over 10 years ago when my first husband Rich Conklin, was heavily challenged with stage four colon cancer at the young age of 42. During the years of his cancer treatment, our children were athletically active in their late high school years. I was also working full time, as was Rich, in addition to his after-work coaching job as a high school football coach. Needless to say, our lives were hectic. As I saw the treatments taking a toll on his body, mind, and spirit, I began to take a close look at the daily noise we mindlessly added to our lives. Well wishers would make passing comments such as “Keep fighting, Rich!” and the cards we received stated, “Keep up the fight”, or “We are fighting with you”. I began to redefine the word “fight” and the images that came to mind. What is the best way to “fight”? All I craved was stillness and peace. We were tired of the “fight”. It had been nine months and the way we were fighting was not working.

The body’s physiological response when “fighting” helps to create an environment where cancer can thrive. Fighting raises adrenaline and cortisol levels, tenses muscles, and can deplete the body of magnesium and other critical nutrients. Consuming a high sugar diet does not help this situation as excessive sugar consumption can create an inflamed, acidic bodily environment where disease, including cancer, can thrive.1-2 Our fight during and after treatment truly seemed counterproductive to recovery. So, is there a better way to fight?

Yes, there is! HCB2 strives to help individuals and communities create both internal and external environments where cancer is challenged to survive. Helping individuals build and maintain a bodily environment that is unable to host the growth of cancer is a part of our work.

It’s no surprise HCB2 discourages the delivery of a plate of cupcakes or cookies to a new survivor in early remission. Isn’t it time to celebrate though? It sure is! Let’s, however, find ways to keep the “Fight Right”. HCB2’s Fight Right initiative educates and encourages folks to consider how they are “doing” life. How and what are we eating? How are we moving? How are we reducing stress? Being mindful about our daily routines can help bring about positive change. The Fight Right initiative includes three focus areas:  Nourish. Move. Breathe.


Real whole foods (and water) help our bodies to function as intended. We strive to decrease toxic burden and reduce inflammation in the body and nutrients found in whole foods have this ability. Unfortunately, sugar-laden and processed foods add to the toxic load and increase inflammation. HCB2’s anti-inflammatory grocery list is a great resource for those wondering what it means to “give our bodies more of what it needs and less of what it does not”.

Instead of cupcakes, we help to educate patients and survivors on our body’s need for healthy fats, clean proteins, minerals, water and the brilliance of greens and vegetables. We provide resources directly to cancer patients such as the Healing Belly Basket. And we can help point the way to a cleaner, lower carb treat that has the savory flavor we all enjoy.


Our bodies are designed to move. Regular movement helps to reduce blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure, move the lymphatic system (our body’s detoxification system) to eliminate waste and toxins, and bring oxygen into the body, which can reduce inflammation. 

Movement also helps us to build strength, endurance, flexibility and can help with postural alignment and the maintaining of balance. Research also shows that exercise can help to combat some of the side effects of cancer treatment! The positive outcomes associated with movement through cancer treatment includes better sleep, increased energy, decreased levels of depression, increased confidence, and less post-treatment weight gain. Continuing to move throughout cancer treatment provides benefits to the patient and creates a foundation for continued positive outcomes throughout survivorship.


Our bodies are designed to rest in appropriate amounts. However, did you know you can rest while you work? Just by focusing on your breath during work or movement can provide several benefits to our bodies. By being present and focused on taking large diaphragmatic breaths while at work can increase an overall sense of well being. Being mindful during your tasks can reduce emotional, mental and physical stress. Chronic stress creates a constant drip of cortisol in our bodies which can increase inflammation and damage arteries. By bringing more oxygen into the body through deep breathing the immune system can be strengthened and lymph (cellular, and other, waste) can be moved out of the body. When you are driving in your car, typing an email, or cooking dinner, consider being mindful of the breath as a way to help reduce the dis-ease which can come from chronic stress.

We must eat, move, and breathe every day to remain alive. The Fight Right initiative focuses on those three activities and educates community members about the benefits of becoming mindful as to our state of being during those actions. We are human beings, not human “doings”. Being aware of how we take in nourishment, take in oxygen, and move through our day is free, simple, and may be the game changer in cancer prevention. Fight Right!


  1. Harvard Health. (2017, May). The Sweet Danger of Sugar. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from
  2. Crawford, Amy. (2019, March 20) Increasing evidence of a strong connection between sugar and cancer.  Medical Xpress. Retrieved from 

Salt! More or less?

Salt! More or less?

Hitting Cancer Below the Belt (HCB2) has considered salt an important component of our healing belly basket since the program’s inception in 2016. Full of minerals and electrolytes, salt helps our muscles move, helps our nerves function, keeps our body fluids balanced, and so much more! We strongly recommend unrefined salt over the highly processed white table salt as it is heavily refined. In contrast, unrefined sea salt, celtic salt and pink salt offer not only sodium and chloride (i.e. salt), but several other electrolytes and minerals, including trace amounts of magnesium that is critical to optimal bodily function.

The recommendation to smartly add salt, and not less, may seem contradictory to conventional dietary guidelines, but we are not alone in this recommendation. Researchers like Dr. James DiNicolantonio of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, suggests in his book, The Salt Fix, that quality salt intake is essential to the management and prevention of disease, including heart disease!

The body’s need for salt is likely to vary from person to person as well as day to day. You may need more or less depending on certain health conditions, level of physical activity, and salt intake from foods. For instance, experiencing chronic stress or participating in a moderate/intense exercise program can create a need for additional unrefined salt in your diet. Listen to your body and don’t hesitate to do the research for yourself.

We are not encouraging readers to add salt with reckless abandon, especially in its inferior form as table salt. We strongly suggest refraining from consuming heavily processed fast and packaged foods that are often loaded with refined salt and include other low-quality additives such as refined sugars. HCB2 advocates for the consumption of real, whole foods including healthy fats, clean fruits and vegetables, clean proteins, along with unrefined salt.

Feel free to check out the HCB2 Fight Right Anti-Inflammatory Grocery List for more information on eating in ways that can help reduce the burden on our bodies. You will find some suggestions for unrefined salt included on the list. So push away that table salt shaker and discover other ways to give your meal a salty sprinkle. Your body will thank you!

Exercise and Cancer

Great benefits of moving at any age and any stage!

Why Exercise During Cancer Treatment?

Physical activity while patients receive cancer treatment has been shown to have both short term and long term benefits. Physical activity is known to combat treatment-related side effects which includes fatigue, muscle loss, decreased range of motion, muscular imbalance, and “chemo brain” while helping to reduce anxiety and depression.  Anne M. May, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands speaks and writes about her support of regular physical activity after diagnosis due to the associated positive outcomes.

Additionally, research shows that exercising during cancer treatment can be beneficial for the health and quality of life of survivors.  Long term benefits include a lower chance of post- treatment fatigue and weight gain, as well as a stronger immune system which can lead to a reduced risk of a future diagnosis.  Exercise helps to not only strengthen the body and immune system, but to stimulate the lymphatic system to help naturally detox cellular waste, toxins, bacteria, and chemicals which can cause inflammation, pain, and illness.

Since studies are showing positive short-term and long term effects of exercise during cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, and HCB2 is a prevention organization, we are beginning to offer exercise services to cancer patients and survivors.  Our goal is to roll out the new Fight Right initiative this Fall of 2019.  We cannot ignore the research showing that exercise is good for cancer patients. Timothy Gilligan, MD, MSc, FASCO, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, has stated,  “In the past, patients were often told to rest and reduce their physical activity during treatment, but we now know that exercise is both safe and highly beneficial.”  We are eager to offer exercise services to the Richmond area cancer patients!

More information about HCB2’s group Monthly Move sessions and individual consultations will be announced in September.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email

Let’s Fight Right so we create a bodily environment where cancer is challenged to survive!  #cancerhatesthat




“Can We Talk” Breaking the silence about colorectal cancer.

HCB2’s website has downloadable resources which may help you and your loved ones reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.  Specifically, the “Can We Talk” one pager consists of six questions to ask yourself and your loved ones to assess your risk of a future colorectal cancer diagnosis.  HCB2 is gearing up for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month during the month of March, and our schedule is filling up with community appearances to  provide prevention education and to raise the level of conversation about this disease.  We will be distributing the flyer and encouraging community members to take home the information and discuss with family members. However, you can take 5 minutes right now and download the six questions.  The “Can We Talk” flyer breaks the silence about colon health in an effort to reduce the risk of a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Potty time is no longer private time – listen to your gut!  Be aware of chronic GI symptoms, discover your family history, talk to your doctor about screening options, and always tell your doctor about any GI issues.  Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable especially if caught in the early stages.  Let’s get talking!


Start the Conversation

Can We Talk?  I just need a moment. This one, short conversation could be a game changer for you and your family. Unfortunately, this brief conversation is rarely started and loved ones suffer. HCB2 sparks conversations that are just hard to start. So what does HCB2 want to talk about?

We want to talk about your potty time – yep, potty time is no longer private time here at HCB2! We want to unlock the silence that is allowing a deadly disease to thrive. It’s critical to de-shame topics such as elimination, poop, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in stool.  Additionally, we want loved ones to talk about their family history as opposed to avoiding the conversation. Moreover, we hear the words ‘colon, rectal, or anal cancer’ whispered softly ‘out of respect’ or to avoid shaming the patient or lost loved one. Enough!  HCB2 understands how the avoidance of this discussion leads to heartache, and how we unintentionally keep colorectal cancer alive and well with our silence.

HCB2 has created a one page form with six simple questions you can use to start the conversation with loved ones. Six easy questions which help to break through the silence.The questions may lead to laughter, may lead to more questions, or may lead to a more serious discussion. Whatever the tone of the conversation, the silence has been broken, new information has been learned, and ultimately, lives may be saved.

See attached link for the CanWeTalk.pages which can provide assistance in starting the conversation and it provides information about symptoms and screening options. After your conversation, share your experiences with us! We would love to hear from you. Email Start the conversation #cancerhatesthat

Helping you to Fight Right: HCB2’s Anti-Inflammatory Grocery List

Last year, HCB2 partnered with Dr. Marlisa Hurt to create an anti-inflammatory grocery list. As many of you know, we offer free Healing Belly Baskets (make your request here) to cancer patients and survivors, but we realized that people were looking for more information and support beyond this service.

The HCB2 grocery list focuses on consuming quality fats, clean proteins, veggies, and low-glycemic fresh fruits. We also highlight the importance of hydration and identify foods which support our gut microbiome – the “good guy” bacteria that plays a role in digestion and helps to synthesize nutrients.

The anti-inflammatory grocery list encourages folks to limit or avoid certain foods and food-like substances that have been linked to less than optimal health outcomes. This includes the avoidance of added and excess sugars in the diet, as well as avoiding all forms of artificial sugars. For instance, if you prefer to add something sweet to your food or drink, we recommend liquid stevia or luo han guo (also known as monk fruit).

You might notice that grains and legumes are missing from the HCB2 grocery list. Too often, many people are consuming large amounts of these over processed foods. Most grains are highly glycemic and very difficult to digest especially in individuals where their gut health may be compromised.

Caffeine and alcohol are also off the list. It’s good to know that these chemicals are not necessary for proper bodily function though many of us may feel the need for that coffee jolt in the morning. For those dealing with health issues, caffeine and alcohol can contribute to the burden placed on the body each day especially if our nutritional needs are not being met.

HCB2 loves quality fat! Previously, we wrote about the importance of fat. Saturated fats are an important nutrient to our cell structure, and fats have been shown in the research to support cardiovascular health, good (HDL) cholesterol, and weight management. Additionally, quality fats have be shown to be protective against cancer and some of the side effects of cancer treatment.

At first glance, the HCB2 anti-inflammatory grocery list may seem a bit restrictive. With the help of Dr. Hurt and current research, we selected those nutrients which help to create a bodily environment where cancer is challenged to survive. It’s time to get creative because there are so many foods one can incorporate into each meal. Remove the stress about daily food choices by opening your mind to new ideas. For example, crack an egg into a pan of coconut oil, add some organic spinach, and unrefined sea salt (not table salt) to taste. Remove from pan and plate along side 1/2 avocado. The fat and protein will stay with you for hours so you will not be crashing prior to lunch, plus your brain, muscles, and cells will love it!

To sum up with some easy to remember tips! Fight Right with real food. Enjoy all the colors of the rainbow represented in a wide array of vegetables. Quality fats are not your enemy, and a hydrated body can prevent many problems. We hope you check out the HCB2 anti-inflammatory grocery list and select a few new items to place in your cart next time you visit the grocery store!

Stress Reduction: Mindfulness and Visualization Apps

On May 9th, we offered a stress reduction workshop on visualization and we have some meditation apps to share with all of you!

Dawn Quicke, CMT, NeuroStrategist, and owner of Living Health Massage and Wellness Center, guided us through a couple of practices which helped attendees to discover the healing power of visualization and how to live a deliberate life.  This practice is much more that “just being or staying positive”. Our thoughts and the words we use contain power and we have the choice to use our words to our advantage or disadvantage.  Our body contains cells which record our emotional state.  For instance, if you close your eyes and think about holding a lemon, smelling the lemon, and then taking a bite out of the lemon it’s quite likely you will experience a sour taste and even a sour expression; however, the lemon is not real.  The lemon is just imagined. The imagined image created a physical and emotional response within the body.  We highly suggest to pay attention to your thoughts as they do impact your body.

Visualization, like meditation, does require some practice. Dawn suggested we check out the Calm and Insight Timer apps to help us incorporate this way of thinking and being into our lives each day.  Check out the links below:

Do you practice mindfulness?  Do you have an app or other resource you like to use?  Would love to hear from you!  Send us an email at