To symbolize the roots of support within the colorectal cancer survivor community, nine-time Olympic swimming medalist Dara Torres partook in a tree-planting ceremony at the Yale School of Medicine on Thursday.

Torres, whose father is a survivor of CRC, is the official spokesperson for Roots of Support in CRC, an educational program kicked-off last May by the Colon Cancer Alliance. The program is dedicated to giving CRC patients, caregivers, family members, and friends a network of support. Roots of Support is currently touring many cancer institutes, planting trees at each one they visit.

The tree planting, held on the lawn outside of the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Public Health, followed short speeches by Dr. Edward Chu, chief of Medical Oncology for the Yale Cancer Center; Dr. Richard Edelson, the director of the Cancer Center; Colon Cancer Alliance representative Randall Lopez and Torres. The presentations were followed by the tree planting ceremony and the dedication of a plaque for victims and survivors of CRC.

The Yale Cancer Center is one of 38 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. It is the only NCI-designated center in southern New England and was the focus of Torres’ visit to Yale.

According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, about 147,000 new diagnoses of CRC will be made in the United States in 2004 alone. It is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths, resulting in nearly 60,000 this year.

“Colorectal cancer is the biggest cancer that we treat in the nation and is the third most prevalent in the nation and in Connecticut,” Chu said.

Torres said family members and friends should play an active role in CRC treatment.

“Some people do not know how to approach somebody with a diagnosis, but family and friends are of very important value to the patient,” Torres said. “My father was diagnosed when he was 83, and it was the little things that we did to help him, like going to the store for him or accompanying him to the doctor.”

Roots of Support is designed to give those around the patient support and advice on how to play an active role in the treatment of a loved one with CRC, as well as helping the patient cope with the diagnosis.

The program was established early this year due to the growing demand of support from the increasing number of CRC patients.

“Our main goal is to get everybody to see what’s going on with CRC,” Lopez, who is himself a survivor of CRC, said. “The information and knowledge alone will help the patients, those involved in the treatment of the patient and even the general public.”

Lopez said young people are especially at risk of being diagnosed with CRC, which he attributes to carelessness.

“Young men don’t like to go to the doctors, so particularly for us, it’s dangerous,” Lopez said. “I was 35 when I was diagnosed, and I was already at stage four of my cancer.”

The Roots of Support program is funded through grants by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and ImClone Systems Incorporated, pharmaceutical companies developing cancer treatments. The Yale Cancer Center is the third facility to receive a tree-planting visit. The two previous were at the University of North Carolina and the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health in New York City, opened by NBC anchor Katie Couric in honor of her late husband, who died because of CRC.