ENCORE: Ankeny Cop's Organization Offers Help to Families Facing Cancer
Ankeny's Craig Phinney survived colon cancer and turned his illness into a mission to help others. He formed Cops Against Cancer, a non-profit group that provides emotional and financial support to others going through a similar fight.
Craig Phinney is a cop.
He speaks with authority; people trust him.
So, when Phinney gave himself an order — stop the pity party and defeat cancer — his mind, spirit and body responded.
Phinney, an officer with the Ankeny Police Department, is a colon cancer survivor, who has made it his mission to help as many of those people and their families as he can.
“Being a police officer is not a job for me – it’s a profession, a passion and a love. Getting healthy and getting back on the job was my fight.”
Phinney, a 53-year-old Ankeny resident, is the founder of Cops Against Cancer, a non-profit organization that provides both emotional and financial support to individuals and families who are battling cancer. His organization is planning a fundraiser to support the cause, as well as bring awareness to the link between cancer and overall health.
“Everyone has that cancer connection somewhere in their lives,” Phinney said. “I saw my cancer as an opportunity to share my story. God gave me my talents as well as my ability to use them, so that’s what I’m doing.”
In the United States, cancer accounted for one of every four deaths, according to numbers released by the American Cancer Society. The organization also predicted close to 1.6 million Americans would be diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
Health and weight are also proven to be factors in the development of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity is associated with increased risks of cancers of the esophagus, breast, endometrium, colon and rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and possibly other cancer types.
On March 3, Phinney, his wife, Shirley, a group of celebrities from NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” and numerous others will team up to promote good health and, in turn, raise money for Cops Against Cancer and encourage cancer awareness.
Phinney's story is being featured nationally today on the Huffington Post website as a Greatest Person of the Day piece. You can find it and other stories from around the country through this link.
Phinney’s Story and the Start of Cops Against Cancer
Phinney, a police officer of 33 years, was given his diagnosis on Feb. 6, 2009. After two colonoscopies, his doctor told him he had pre-cancer dysplasia on his colon. Over the next several weeks, he was encouraged to proceed with a surgery that would remove his colon.
“When you’re told you have cancer, you can lose hope,” Phinney said. “This was the first time in my life I was exposed to cancer. It wasn’t anywhere in my family.”
Both before and after his first surgery, Phinney said he was depressed by the sudden unknowns in his future. It wasn’t long, though, until he found hope in a couple of forms.
One was his surgeon, Dr. Michael Page of Iowa Clinics in Des Moines.
“Many doctors just tell you, ‘You have cancer – deal with it’. That’s the black and white message they share with their patients when telling them they have cancer,” Phinney said. “Dr. Page got me out of my hospital bed, got me walking, got me fighting.”
And after originally being told his law enforcement career would likely be over, Phinney underwent surgery to remove the cancer in March 2009 and several weeks later, he was back in uniform.
“You grasp everything important to you and fight,” Phinney said. “Being a police officer is not a job for me – it’s a profession, a passion and a love. Getting healthy and getting back on the job was my fight.”
Phinney’s other form of inspiration was music sung by Christian artist David M. Bailey, who suffered from an aggressive form of brain cancer.
“He’s a musician that brings hope and inspiration to his audience,” Phinney said. “I told myself, ‘Get out of bed, stop your pity party, use your cop experience and fight this.’”
Phinney later met Bailey when he played a concert at the first Cops Against Cancer’s fundraiser, held in July 2010. Bailey died a few months later in October, after a 16-year-battle with the disease.
“When he picked up a guitar, he left you with hope,” Phinney said. “Every time I do a speaking engagement now, I dedicate it to David.”
Supporting Those With a Similar Story
Phinney said Cops Against Cancer could be traced back to his hospital room in 2009. After returning home he started telling his story to church congregations. The number of people who would come up to him following a speech, wanting to share their stories of how cancer touched their lives, surprised him.
Phinney credits much of it to his job as a police officer.
“As an officer, I swore an oath to protect and serve those in need,” Phinney said. “To those people, it was about having that confidentiality and the comfort of a listening ear.”
Phinney said Cops Against Cancer expands on that trust. Formally recognized as a non-profit in March 2010, the group originally wanted to focus on helping law enforcement families, but Phinney said the group will now help anyone. That help ranges from simply listening to sharing resources to providing financial assistance to families dealing with cancer.
The organization receives money through sponsorships and donations from businesses and individuals. While Phinney knows it’s important to raise money for organizations like the American Cancer Society that specialize in research, he said it’s equally important to financially support cancer patients.
“We’ll help with anything from utility bills, giving you a ride home from a treatment to putting you up in a hotel,” Phinney said. “We also work with other agencies and organizations, such as David’s Fight, and will act as a go-between for you and them.”
“Pride is a big thing and if we can break down that wall for you, we’re doing our job,” he said.
Good Health and Cancer Prevention Go Hand in Hand
At a speaking event close to Christmas 2010, Phinney said he looked in the mirror and saw a man who had reached the heaviest weight he had ever been.
Aside from the cancer, Phinney knew he was slowly killing himself with a poor diet and lack of exercise.
“The cancer didn’t scare me, but this did,” he said.
According to the National Cancer Center, about 34,000 new cases of cancer in men and 50,500 in women were due to obesity. The percentage of cases attributed to obesity varied widely for different cancer types, but was as high as 40 percent for some cancers, particularly endometrial and esophageal cancer.
One year ago, Phinney and his wife got to work in their goal to lose weight and increase their overall health through regular exercise. They have now each lost close to 70 pounds.
Through their quest to get fit, Shirley Phinney met Rebecca Meyer at the Healthy Living Center in Clive. Meyer and her fiancée, Daniel Wright, both live in Des Moines and were former contestants on the NBC show “The Biggest Loser,” appearing on seasons eight and seven, respectively. The couple are now certified personal trainers, having lost a combined 400 pounds since their debut on the popular show.
“Shirley and Craig were huge fans of the show and of us,” Meyer said. “She expressed their interest in getting fit, told us about their organization and shared Craig’s story. My father is a colon cancer survivor – that is what piqued my interest.”
In the past year, the Phinneys, Meyer and Wright grew close. The four of them came up with the idea for Cops Against Cancer’s next fundraiser.
“This is not just about weight loss, but disease prevention – losing weight actually prevents cancer,” Wright said. “We wanted to work together on this fundraiser and we said it should totally be a fitness event.”
The 12-Hour Fitness and Endurance Challenge
The 12-Hour Fitness and Endurance Challenge will be held March 3 at Second Wind Exercise Equipment, located at 10201 University Blvd. in Clive.
Fifteen teams of six people will participate in the challenge, Phinney said. Throughout the event, a member of each team will need to be on a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical machine for the entire event. Those not on the exercise equipment will compete in endurance challenges.
Anyone who’s 18 years of age or older can participate. Two teams from the Ankeny Police Department have already committed, Phinney said, and several more from departments across the metro also have expressed interest.
Cops Against Cancer also needs volunteers to donate time, doing anything from grant writing to working the 12-Hour Fitness Challenge.
Prior to the event, team members will raise money by asking friends and family to donate a certain dollar amount per each mile they think the team member will log on the exercise equipment. Team members also will be awarded points.
The perk? The top six teams who receive the most donations while raising a minimum of $600 will get to choose a contestant from NBC’s show “The Biggest Loser” to be the team’s captain. Wright and Meyer will be among those contestants.
Wright said he hopes the fundraiser will inspire people to make better lifestyle choices and raise awareness for Cops Against Cancer.
“Craig’s organization helps those going through cancer treatments that need the small things,” he said. “When you’re battling anything, a better outlook will help you battle stronger.”