Dawn Gagliardi was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at 31 years old. Through her years of treatment and seven surgeries, her positive attitude and drive to make a difference in this space never wavered. Following her diagnosis, she started volunteering in her local community, where she met others who also wanted to change the colon cancer scene in Georgia. Together, they got involved with our first-ever Atlanta Undy Run/Walk in a big way, helping increase participation and raising funds for the event. Learn more about Dawn's journey and the footprint she has created!
Where does your passion come from?
As a stage IV survivor myself, diagnosed at the age of 31 with no family history, I understand the need to continue to raise awareness and educate people about this terrible disease. I began volunteering at my local Cancer Support Community in late 2009 when I lost my job. At that point, I was already six years cancer free and had not really taken any time or given any effort to support a cause that was so near and dear to me. When I began sharing my story with other survivors and caregivers, I realized the affect this had on others; it was beyond words. I have lost many friends, way too young, to this disease. It is true what they say this is not an old man’s disease any longer. Colon Cancer Alliance, The Colon Club and my local Cancer Support Community are the outlets I have chosen to help make strides in education and awareness about this disease, especially the growing occurrence in those under the age of 50!
How did you get involved with the Undy?
In 2009, I attended a local support group and met the wife of a survivor, also in his 30s'. She had found the Colon Cancer Alliance when searching for support for her and her newly diagnosed husband. She then shared with the group information regarding the first Atlanta Undy Run/Walk. We all got involved that first year and I have continued to support the event with my own team each year.[caption id="attachment_2595" align="alignright" width="190"] (L) Dawn and (R) CEO of Colon Cancer Alliance, Eric Hargis[/caption]
What is your favorite part of the event?
There's not really a “part” of the event, but when you are surrounded by so many people who may have gone through a similar experience, it gives you chills. It makes you feel like you are making a difference and I am always thrilled to be a part of this event.
What advice would you give to someone fundraising for the first time?
Don’t be afraid to ask for support and tell your story if you have one. Use the tools the Colon Cancer Alliance provides and be the squeaky wheel. I start emailing my supporters when the Undy date is opened for registration. I email once a month early on and then when we get to the last 30 days before the race, I email once a week. I also finish off with once a day email for the final week prior to race day. Make your emails a story and talk about training for the race/run. Talk about your employer matching your donations to get people involved. Reach out to family and friends of a survivor to honor them at the Undy.
How have you rallied your community to get involved with the Undy over the years & what has this meant to you?
To be honest, most of my support is from afar. I am originally from Connecticut and have only been in Georgia for 10 years. When I got involved, I reached out near and far. I wish I had more free time to further these efforts as I know I could progress on that front. My employer is based out of Detroit, Michigan and they feel very strongly about supporting charities – especially one that is so important to me . They even have matched 50% of my personal donations for the past three years! I am very lucky to have them behind me as well. It’s always fun to make that final donation the day before the race and watch my total fundraising dollars soar so high.[caption id="attachment_2598" align="alignleft" width="286"] The 'Blue is the Next Pink' Atlanta Undy Team![/caption]
What have you learned through your cancer journey?
To this day I still find it hard to believe I had cancer. I fought hard for more than a year and a half before I was finally told, “You have no evidence of disease.” I am one of the lucky ones who is still around to tell my story. The hard lesson you learn is that you have to be your own advocate. As a healthy 31-year-old complaining of digestive issues, it was so easy for doctors to attribute all my discomfort to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Thankfully I had a great group of doctors and surgeons who didn't give up and went that extra step to perform a colonoscopy. The rest is history.
As a 5th year participant, what keeps you coming back to the Undy?
The fact that my fundraising dollars go back to my local community to help with education, awareness, research and the fight against colon cancer. My competitive nature keeps me involved as well. I no longer enjoy running as much as I used to, but I do participate in the Undy each year since it is a cause I am so dedicated to.
Learn more about the Undy Run/Walk and find an event near you!
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!