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Cornell’s First Female President Succumbs to Colon Cancer

elizabethgarrettRobert Barker/Cornell University

Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman to serve as president of Cornell University, died on March 6 of colon cancer. She was 52.

“There are few words to express the enormity of this loss,” said Robert S. Harrison, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees. He noted that Garrett had waged “a brave battle with colon cancer.”

Garrett’s death came while she was in her first year as president of the 149-year-old Ivy League university based in Ithaca, N.Y. Before her inauguration at Cornell last September, she was a law professor and provost at the University of Southern California.

She made her diagnosis public in February and was undergoing aggressive treatment, the university said.

In February, Garrett said: “I am optimistic that with the support of my family, friends and the Cornell community, I will be able to resume a fuller schedule soon and manage this illness. Advances in research and clinical care in cancer offer great hope to patients like me, and Cornell and Weill Cornell lead in advancing science in this arena. I am truly grateful to all the wonderful friends and colleagues who are helping me out through this difficult process.”

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Garrett, who was described as a vibrant and passionate leader, lost her battle with cancer at a time when she had achieved a high point of her career and in the month when the nation is focusing on awareness of colorectal cancer.

This is a reminder for everyone, especially women, that even a disease like colon cancer, which can be highly curable in its early stages, can have devastating results.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society recommend that everyone at average risk for developing colorectal cancer begin regular screening at age 50. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in American women, behind lung cancer and breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RELATED: Seven Myths that Impede Lifesaving Colon Cancer Screening

We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Elizabeth Garrett for the loss of a talented and accomplished woman. And we urge all women to consult with their physicians and make sure to begin screening for colorectal at the appropriate time.  



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