FORT LEE, N.J. -- Bob Ceragno began having some strange symptoms in late April 2015, and he was on the operating table by May. While his experience with colorectal cancer was, itself, shocking, he and his wife also realized that there isn't nearly enough awareness about this type of cancer, which is the second most lethal in the U.S.
Bob and Marlene Ceragno set out to help change that, and this is the second year they're hosting a monthlong CRC awareness and fundraising campaign through their business, North Bergen's Eye Contact Vision Center.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Marlene told the Daily Voice that their own fight, while scary, was straightforward at first, and they thought surgery had taken care of her husband's cancer. But his symptoms recurred, and he ultimately needed chemo and radiation.
"We were heartbroken."
They run their own retail business, and being able to be there is crucial.
"When you own a mom-and-pop business, like I do, they come in looking for me," Bob said.
"He worked through it all," Marlene added, speculating that his having something to work for, in addition to his health, probably helped with his recovery.
Customers and friends would ask them about his experience and what to look for, and they knew they had something else to work for: awareness.
When organizing a surprise party for Bob's 60th birthday, during his treatments, instead of gifts, Marlene asked people to donate to an organization with the same mission. That's Fight CRC.
Last March, the couple raised nearly $2,300 with the community's help and more than $10,000 in the course of the past year.
That total includes over $3,500 raised by members of the North Bergen PBA, which raised money during "No Shave November" and donated the money to this cause.
This year, Bob and Marlene are again partnering with the health department and with North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, to help spread the word about how screenings and early detection can save lives.
As with last year, the couple will donate $10 for each pair of glasses sold – and $20 if they're blue, the color for CRC, as pink is for breast cancer awareness. The fundraising will also include a Fight CRC collection box, though they keep that out year-round.
Bob explained that, when people come in for minor repairs, he offers that they can donate what they can, instead of him charging them.
The pair also uses social media throughout the year, to bring greater awareness, raise additional donations and let folks know of different ways they can help with the cause.
And they just talk to people they encounter, throughout their days. Right before this interview, Bob ended up talking with a customer who told him, "My husband just won't go."
He gave her a blue bracelet and a pep talk on encouraging her husband.
"Men are too macho or don't even know what a colonoscopy is all about," he said. "It's not a big deal anymore."
Bob's general advice?
It's important to put the right food in your body, and take care of yourself – and, with it being CRC Awareness Month – get off the couch and go take care of yourself.
The Ceragnos are kicking off CRC Awareness Month with an event at their store this Friday at 11 a.m., with the help of North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, which will be making a donation.
Marlene added that members of the police department, not to be outdone, may well be there too.
On Wednesday, Bob will be in New York City, for a sold-out event by Fight CRC, the American Cancer Society and more, kicking off the month. The day will feature speakers including Katie Couric, Luke Perry, Craig Campbell and Scott Lagasse Jr. –and ringing the NASDAQ closing bell tomorrow, though Bob doesn't know if he'll get to handle the hammer himself.
"I'm dedicated to my job, and I'm now dedicated to fighting CRC," he added. "We hope to save some lives by doing what we're doing."
"Spreading the word is the only way to eradicate this terrible disease," Marlene added.