Honoring our May Hero of the Month: Tess Fraser
Tess Fraser is mother to a precious three-year-old son and on the brink of having her first baby girl. After her own mom’s colon cancer diagnosis in 2011, Tess turned to the Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA) because she wanted to help keep other families from experiencing what hers was going through. She worked hard to bring the Undy 5000 5K Run/Walk to Western New York and has been instrumental in making the Buffalo Undy 5000 the event it is today – raising more than $180,000 locally to date with over 1,100 participants in this year’s event alone. Unfortunately, Tess’s mom lost her battle before she could see the first Buffalo Undy 5000, but the event lives on in her memory. Tess has continued to be a dedicated and powerful ambassador for CCA and colon cancer awareness in general. Tess is our hero because she took her own loss and turned it into something positive and motivating – helping save lives. And there’s nothing more heroic than that.
A Mother’s Diagnosis
My mother was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at 58 years old. She, like so many others, did not fully understand the importance of getting a colonoscopy and kept putting it off. We actually had no family history of colon cancer prior to my mother’s diagnosis. My mom was one of 11 children and two of her sisters are breast cancer survivors – my mom was great about getting her mammograms, however colon cancer was never even on her radar.
It was rapid weight loss and flu-like symptoms that led to her initial diagnosis. Once we learned that it was stage IV colon cancer, our entire world changed in an instant. We knew this was going to be a tough battle. We are an incredibly close family and my father, brother, husband and myself were by her side every step of the way.
After an intense, courageous, and very difficult eight-month battle, my mom succumbed to the disease in March of 2012, just three days after her 59th Birthday.
The Importance of Getting Involved
As soon as Mom was diagnosed, I wanted to learn everything I could about colon cancer so that I could be the best possible advocate for her. I found the CCA almost immediately and found it to be an incredible educational resource for me and my family. I think the biggest shock for me was learning that colon cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer as long as people get screened according to the guidelines. I knew that if our family didn’t really understand that, then there were countless others who also didn’t realize WHY it is so important to get screened.
Prior to the first Undy 5000, Buffalo didn’t really have any events dedicated to raising awareness about colon cancer. I wanted to bring the Undy here not only to honor my mother, but to help raise awareness and prevent other families from having to experience a colon cancer diagnosis.
My mom knew about my efforts to bring the Undy to Buffalo and absolutely loved the idea. She said to me, “Maybe something positive could come from my experience after all.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Unfortunately she passed away about six weeks prior to our first Buffalo Undy, so never was able to see our community come together the way it did, but I know that she was there in spirit.
Buffalo is amazing! It has been completely overwhelming to see our community come together the way it has for this important and worthwhile cause. I never imagined having the turnout we did our first year and to have 1,100 people this year was just incredible!
It turns out that there are many families in Buffalo who have also had their lives touched by this disease. I have met so many incredible people – survivors and others who have lost a loved one to colon cancer – so many others who also want to help spread awareness about this terrible disease in hopes of saving lives.
On Mother’s Day
My mom was my absolute best friend and I miss her every day. She was a beautiful and vibrant soul who loved life and her family. I will forever feel thankful to have had such an amazing role model to teach me how to be the best mother that I can be.
As a daughter without her mother, Mother’s Day is difficult, but also a good time to reflect, and honor my mother’s memory by enjoying life, and focusing on all that I have to be thankful for.
As a mother, I draw strength from my children. My son, Patrick, turns 3 next week and our second child, a daughter, is due in June. My son has given me tremendous strength throughout this journey and I am amazed at how loving and compassionate he is at such a young age. Becoming a mother is one of my greatest accomplishments.
If I can be half as good of a mother as my mom was, my children will be very lucky.
Continuing to Honor
As long as I have a voice, I will continue to advocate about the importance of knowing your family history and getting screened for colon cancer. I want to help educate others and help prevent others from experiencing a diagnosis or losing a loved one to such a preventable disease. My son is still too young to understand the disease but as he gets older, he will be very aware of his own family history and the importance of screening.
I will continue to honor my mother’s memory every day by living my life as she taught me and incorporating the values that I inherited from her into the lives of my own children. Although she is no longer here, I will always keep her memory alive – each and every day.
-Tess Fraser, 32