Stan Thomas is a superstar volunteer, but when you ask him about all of the things he’s done, he’s sure to give the credit to his wife Paula. Paula was very involved in our Dallas/Fort Worth Undy Run/Walk before her passing in 2014 and Stan continues her work today. In fact, Stan and his family encouraged many people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to participate in last year’s Undy, led an outstanding fundraising effort and even took home an award with his team! We’re honored to spotlight Undy Engagement Committee member Stan Thomas as our Hero of the Month.
Can you tell us about yourself and your wife Paula?
More than 30 years ago, both Paula and I were living and working in northern California. We met helping mutual friends host a family run summer festival at a small winery. Two lanky, tall people serving wine side by side—it was love at first sight. Needless to say, if you marry a native Texan you eventually end up in Texas as I did. As I’m originally from the Chicago area, we did share a Midwestern sense of values.
While raising children, we developed a passion for community involvement. I ran a community association for years while Paula served on the PTA, started a local math-science conference for middle school girls and was elected to serve on a school board. I always knew I had a trophy wife, but I also realized I needed to be a supporting, pedestal husband.
Eventually, Paula returned to work fulltime. A job change brought me to Fort Worth and she followed with a corporate transfer. As empty nesters, we had been in planning mode for our retirement, which, of course, included a focus on giving back to the community after years of personal good fortune.
Paula’s routine colonoscopy followed by a stage II colon cancer diagnosis suddenly changed our focus. All was fine for a while—even after the one-year colonoscopy. But a few months later, the cancer had come back as stage IV. Surgery and chemotherapy followed with a new normal of living for another 20 months; then the disease started spreading again. A positive test for the KRAS mutant gene confirmed further chemotherapy would be ineffective. She passed away some six months later. I was her caregiver and it was a rich part of my life.
How did you and Paula learn about the Undy Run/Walk and why was this event so important her?
The diagnosis created a new sense of urgency for Paula to giving back to the community with a new focus: awareness of and education about colon cancer, as well as fundraising to fight the disease. This was also a family affair; one daughter discovered the Colon Cancer Alliance and the local Undy online, and Paula decided “this is what we are going to do.” Perhaps one reason for the appeal was that in 2013, the Undy Run/Walk was held at White Rock Lake in Dallas—only a few miles from where she grew up and a place she frequented during her high school years. However, she was able to convince the Colon Cancer Alliance that if the race was to grow, it needed to become a metroplex-wide event and not just a city race. In 2014, the Undy did get moved more centrally to Arlington. Paula died the day before the race that year, but our family and friends still all participated.
What inspires you to continue your Undy involvement?
Paula had a vision—she always had a view for the larger picture. I believe in her vision to grow our local Undy Run/Walk to a metroplex-wide event, whether it’s by participation, fundraising, part of a wellness program or workplace team-building effort. Nurturing it is a journey for me. it’s also building on what others have started and gives me purpose to Paula’s passing. However, it’s no longer just about Paula—it’s about my family members and friends too. We know the statistics; we can all be at risk for colon cancer regardless of age or gender. So we all need to keep putting our best foot forward.
What advice would you give other caregivers who are looking to get involved?
For those who want to get involved locally, growing our Undy Run/Walk is about communication and encouragement. Even if there aren’t many volunteers, we can work collectively to advertise in our own parts of the metro; we can make it personal to where we each live and work. Feel free to contact me if you want to join in!
Carrying the awareness message can’t stop at the Undy. For instance, a woman gave a presentation at the 2013 Colon Cancer Alliance National Conference about raising awareness with a “Dress in Blue Sunday” at her church. Paula followed suit here in Fort Worth and this year will be our third DIB Sunday at church with an information table for education between services. In March, a local restaurant works with us to sponsor a “Get Blued” night where the restaurant donates 20 percent of the revenue from participating patrons that night. I’m sure there are other great ideas to try wherever you live! Regardless of where you are, you can create a legacy to your lost loved one. Just look around your community—the opportunity is there for your taking.
To find an Undy Run/Walk near you, visit undyrunwalk.org. Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.