Kevin Hays is an inspiration to us all. As a young survivor diagnosed with colon cancer at age 28, Kevin has overcome challenges that motivated him to help others affected by this disease. His dedication as an Undy Engagement Committee member, incredible planning efforts in the 2016 Buffalo Undy Run/Walk and innovative awareness campaign reflect this commitment. That’s why we’re honored to feature Kevin as our June Hero of the Month!
How did you find the Colon Cancer Alliance and how did you get involved?
I found out about the Colon Cancer Alliance through the Buffalo Undy Run. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I started hearing ads and interviews about the upcoming race. Colon Cancer Alliance Board Member Tess Fraser, who is also the chair of the Buffalo Undy Run, was building the event, giving interviews about how the disease has touched her and promoting awareness.
I thought the Undy Run was a really neat idea and Tess’ passion resonated with me, so I reached out to her and she kindly put me in contact with someone that had been through an experience similar to mine. That connection meant the world to me—I had a peer that had gone through what I was going through. He gave me advice, insight, caution and optimism, which was a really important part of the support network.
The next year, after I had finished chemo, I decided to run in the Buffalo Undy. I had a great time and made an extra effort to get involved for the 2016 season. The Colon Cancer Alliance has been an organization that consistently does good work for the community as a whole, but also connects individuals touched by colon cancer—whether we need support, advice or just a sounding board. These people get it, and that’s an invaluable resource to have for anyone’s journey.
What's your favorite Undy Run/Walk memory?
The Undy Run/Walk has a special place for me. I have many favorites depending on what perspective I’m coming from. Selfishly, my personal favorite memory was 2015, when I finished first place in the survivor category just three months after finishing chemo. That was a tangible milestone for me moving beyond the disease.
From a planning perspective, my favorite memory is attending the collaborative workshop where Undy volunteers from around the country reviewed and shared best practices with one another at the Colon Cancer Alliance National Conference. Seeing the tremendous turnout at the 2016 Undy Run/Walk starting line was exciting because it illustrated the unity of so many people coming together for this cause.
Tell us about the Blue Bash and how that came about!
I can’t take credit for the initial idea of the Blue Bash—this was a past kickoff and thank-you event for the Undy Run/Walk. I took on the role of resurrecting the Blue Bash when I stepped into the role of Vice Chair for the Buffalo Undy. It’s a way for us to provide an opportunity for people to come together to support colorectal cancer awareness and patient support. We wanted to reach both current supporters and new people, whether they were participating in the run or not. We had a lot of fun spreading the message and fundraising—I’m looking forward to doubling our numbers next year!
Can you tell us a little about the Blue Hope Hard Hat Initiative?
I come from the Real Estate Development and Construction industry. This is a group I know and can reach out to. There is a sizable population of people over 50 delaying colorectal screening in the industry and I want to change that.
While discussing my work in real estate development and construction, the American Cancer Society suggested we wear blue hard hats for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. There, the idea was born. I wanted to get all of the developers and contractors I knew wearing these hard hats on job sites to brand them with something memorable. If I could get a few people laughing and talking about #ProtectYourAss, they might break down the stigma against screening. We are also supplying “Toolbox Safety Talks” that contractors need and use, but with a focus on colorectal health. Participating companies are also signing the ‘80% by 2018’ pledge to promote healthy workplaces that support screening.
The goal is awareness. The more hard hats I can get out there, the more people will talk about the colorectal cancer screening. Education and dialogue are important parts of reducing the stigma and fear surrounding screening and ultimately making screening a part of their regular health.
What advice would you give another young survivor looking to get involved?
I think everyone has a different path and a different set of skills, so involvement can vary broadly. However, there are two things we as a community need to target:
- Awareness – We all have friends, family and coworkers who need to be screened. If you’re comfortable sharing your story, please do so. It may encourage someone to stop putting off that doctor appointment.
- Patient Support – Being a young survivor doesn’t mean you know everything about colon cancer, but it does mean you have experience and empathy. Lend your story to someone newly diagnosed.
Two ways to keep learning and find opportunities to promote awareness and patient support are through the Lee Silverstein’s Colon Cancer Podcast and the Blue Hope Nation Facebook Group. These are easy ways to connect with our community and keep on top of the news. I strongly recommend them both.