CHANDLER, Ariz. - March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, referring to a disease that doesn't discriminate when it comes to age or gender - and no one knows that better than our current Mrs. Arizona, Jennifer Ruddle.
Winning the Mrs. Arizona title in 2020 was a dream come true for the 43-year-old Chandler resident, a beauty queen and now cancer survivor.
"We had been traveling quite a bit in September of 2017," said Ruddle. "So we came back from one of our trips and I woke up the next day, and I thought I had the flu."
Ruddle says the symptoms lasted two weeks. At the urging of her husband, Brian, she went to the doctor. A series of tests, including a colonoscopy, revealed she had colon cancer. The tumors had spread to her lungs.
"At that point, they said, 'You are considered a stage four, and you have an 11% chance of survival,' " said Ruddle. "My husband said, 'There's no way, that's not going to happen, we're going to figure this out, and we're going to get you well.' "
After four surgeries, 12 months of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation, Ruddle is in remission. Her scar is a part of who she is, a tough competitor - on stage and against colon cancer.
She has worn other crowns and gowns, competed in other pageants, and after beating colon cancer, she knew she had to win again, so others might know that they have the same chance she did.
"I was so inspired by all these other people who were talling their stories and who had survived, and who had been through such a horrible time with cancer, that I wanted to be able to do that for somebody else," said Ruddle.
Jennifer was elected to the advisory board for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance's Never Too Young campaign. She urges anyone who is 45 and older with an average risk for colon cancer to get tested. She herself had no family history of colon cancer.