Siegel's Cancer Crusade Began Before His Own Diagnosis

Colorectal cancer will kill more than 50,000 people this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Fifteen years before the 63-year-old Joel Siegel learned he had the cancer, he decided to everything he could to confront it.

Brain cancer killed his second wife Jane at age 31. The sudden and crushing loss gave him a new understanding and empathy for everyone touched by the disease.

After actor Gene Wilder lost his wife, famed comedienne Gilda Radner, he and Siegel bonded. Together they formed the first Gilda's Club.

"It's a support group for people who have cancer; it's as simple as that," he said.

But in 1997, a week after he learned he was going to have his first child, Siegel received his own crushing diagnosis during a routine colonoscopy at age 54.

"It was a 70 percent chance that I would be around when he was born, which means there was a 30 percent chance that I wouldn't be," Siegel said.

He did live to see the birth of his son Dylan and the first nine years of Dylan's life. But the years were filled with surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment took a huge physical toll. But his humor, passion and dedication to his child always emerged.

It made him an effective spokesman. He talked about the importance of routine colonoscopies with an evangelical zeal. He even took the message to Congress.

"I came here from New York City this morning hoping that I would encourage someone to have a colonoscopy so that they would not have to go thru what I went through," he said during his Senate testimony in March 2005.

Afterward, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., at the time said she must do it in order not to disappoint Siegel.

This morning on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition," Dr. Tim Johnson said Siegel lived longer than many diagnosed with the disease, but the treatment was difficult.

"Theoretically this is a cancer that is 100 percent preventable," Johnson said.

Everyone should have a routine colonoscopy at 50, he added. Johnson said if everyone got colonoscopies early, it could prevent thousands of deaths.

For more information on colon cancer, visit the American Cancer Society's Web site.