Craig Melvin Wants to 'Save Lives' After Late Brother Lawrence 'Ignored' Signs of Colon Cancer (Exclusive)

“The reality is, had Lawrence gotten checked earlier, he might still be with us,” the 'Today' co-anchor tells PEOPLE

Craig Melvin is turning his loss into an opportunity to save lives.

The Today co-anchor recently spoke to PEOPLE about hosting his upcoming second annual Bottom’s Up Invitational, raising awareness and funds for colon cancer in partnership with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

The 44-year-old introduced the event in honor of his brother Lawrence Meadows, who died in 2020 after a years-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. Looking back, Melvin admits that a lack of knowledge is ultimately what led to his older brother’s death.

“The reality is, had Lawrence gotten checked earlier, he might still be with us.” he tells PEOPLE. “But we didn't know about our family history and there were signs that he ignored.”

“And I'm not saying anything that he wouldn't have said when he was alive,” he continues. “There were abdominal pains, there was blood in the stool, there was weight loss that he just dismissed as other things.”

Colon, or colorectal, cancer is the third most common cancer in the world, after lung and breast cancers.

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults aged 45 and up get regular colon cancer screenings, either stool analyses or colonoscopies. And they urge people with symptoms of colon cancer — such as a change in bowel movements, including increased diarrhea, rectal bleeding, dark stools, unexpected weight loss, cramping and excess fatigue — to get checked out by a doctor.

However, they emphasize the need for preemptive screenings, as these symptoms typically only appear after colon cancer has already spread.

“We know that this is one of those cancers where if it's discovered early enough, you get the colonoscopy, they see something, boom, they take it out right there,” Melvin stresses. “The problems arise when you let it go unchecked for not months, but years.”

Related: Today's Craig Melvin Mourns Death of His Brother Lawrence: 'Colon Cancer Robbed Him'

The TV personality previously shared how colon cancer “robbed” his family. Since watching his brother’s battle up close, Melvin has vowed to make the most of that difficult loss.

“I've always thought that when terrible things happen to you — and terrible things happen to all of us at some point — I think that we're all obligated to take the terrible things and turn them into something positive,” he says, which is why he’s bringing his fundraiser back.

Melvin explains that holding the event on an annual basis was never the plan. After Meadows died, he says he simply knew he wanted to get involved and join the board of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Through that connection, he held last year’s golf tournament, which shocked him with its success.

“That was our first year so we just expected to maybe raise a couple hundred thousand dollars. And last year we raised $1.2 million,” Melvin says. “So when you can get together your friends and some artists and your family and you can raise that kind of money over a two day period, it kind of becomes a no-brainer in terms of doing it again. We couldn't not try to replicate the effort.”

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Nathan Congleton/NBC Craig Melvin
Nathan Congleton/NBC Craig Melvin

Related: Today's Craig Melvin Opens Up About His Brother's Colon Cancer Battle: 'It Was a Punch in the Gut'

Alongside his wife and FOX Sports newscaster Lindsay Czarniak, whose father is colon cancer survivor, Melvin’s Bottom’s Up Invitational is set to kick off September 24-25 in Norwalk, Connecticut.

The event will highlight a celebrity golf tournament and concert featuring Darius Rucker, Thomas McClary (Commodores), Branford Marsalis (Saxophonist and Composer), Ray Boudreaux (The Voice), Preston Pohl (The Voice) and more.

“We're going to save lives and I don't say that lightly. It's not hyperbole. We know that there are a lot of folks in this country that don't get colonoscopies because they can't afford them. We know that there are people who don't know when you are supposed to get a colonoscopy,” Melvin says. “So the money that's raised goes toward those efforts to advocate, efforts to enlighten, to inform. I mean, part of it is literally getting test kits in communities where they are most needed. So, yeah, we sing and dance and play golf to save lives. It's great that we've been able to figure out a way to have some fun and still do some good at the same time.”

Melvin says raising money and awareness for colon cancer is much more difficult than other types of cancer because of the stigma associated with it, which has motivated him even more to stay involved.

“People don't like to talk about their colons. They don't like to talk about their rectums. They don't like to talk about blood in their stools. They don't like to talk about colonoscopies,” he tells PEOPLE. “So, in addition to just raising awareness and raising funds for it, it's all about de-stigmatizing it as well.”

“I just didn't know before Lawrence was diagnosed how many people — many of whom were in the prime of their lives — were dealing with this,” he says. “I had to remind myself during the planning and organizing, what's most important? Why are we doing this? You know, I've got a nine year old and a six year old. I've got a job that's pretty demanding. I've got other demands in my time outside of my work. Why are we doing this? And that's why. Because we know that we're not just saving lives. We know that we're improving the quality of lives as well and that's a strong motivation, so we're gonna keep doing it.”

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