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Hero of the Month: Elysia Hayden

Posted on June 4, 2014

Caleb, Elysia and their family on Christmas 2012.

After unexpectedly losing her brother to colon cancer at just 36 years old, Elysia Hayden made it her mission to not only be proactive about her own health, but put this disease on the radar of others in her Spokane community. On May 17th, with the help of her friends and family, the team held the Caleb’s Colonoscopy Crew Virtual Undy Run/Walk, where 75+ people came out to support her efforts to take down this disease by participating or donating.

What is your connection to colon cancer?

My older brother, Caleb, passed away from colon cancer suddenly & unexpectedly in May 2013 at the age of 36. He was never diagnosed with the disease and didn’t know on the day of his death what he passed away from. Autopsy revealed a baseball sized tumor in his colon. After discovering this shocking family history, my sister, Jessica, and I both spoke to our doctors and asked for a screening colonoscopy. My results were fine. However, Jessica, who is 29, had a pre-cancerous polyp removed. My husband, Adam, also 29, has a family history of the disease and also had a screening colonoscopy. He had eight polyps removed, all benign. Since Caleb’s passing and Jessica’s pre-cancerous polyp removal, we have become absolutely passionate about raising awareness about colon cancer. Caleb suffered in silence with his disease. It’s time to break through perceived stereotypes and get conversations started to save lives.

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Tell us about the adventure of putting together the Caleb’s Colonoscopy Crew Virtual Undy Run/Walk event.

I searched online for an organization that was specifically geared toward colon cancer prevention, research and patient support services. I found the Colon Cancer Alliance and discovered their Undy Run/Walk, but the closest was five hours from my home in Spokane, WA. Then I discovered that the Colon Cancer Alliance offers a Virtual Undy Run/Walk. That sounded like the perfect jumping off point for me. I asked my mom (Jan), Jessica and Adam if they’d like to help me make this 5K event a reality and they were on board. Together, we formed the team Caleb’s Colonoscopy Crew.

We set the date for Saturday May 17th – as close to the anniversary of Caleb’s passing as we could –  which gave us less than three months to plan. We created our team page on the Undy website and Colon Cancer Alliance staff helped us get our Special Event Permit for the park. We started getting the word out by advertising at our friends’ and family’s workplaces. I also contacted each of the five gastroenterology offices in Spokane and I sent each a letter, information about the Colon Cancer Alliance & Undy and fliers for our event.elysia pic stitch 2

We were fortunate enough to obtain three sponsorships – two from local companies and one from an individual – which covered most of the event costs. We purchased a custom banner, made laminated signs stapled to wooden stakes along the route with facts about colon cancer and large signs for parking, blew up plenty of blue star balloons from the Colon Cancer Alliance store and went to Costco to get bottled water and snacks for our participants. We also bought some games for the children to play in the park.

On race day, we had 38 pre-registered participants. We’re proud to report about 75 participants total came out to support Caleb’s Colonoscopy Crew that day, nine volunteers helped and 33 people donated a total of $1,680!

Why did you want to get so involved?

As soon as we found out colon cancer was the disease that took Caleb from us, we all felt very passionately about taking it up as our cause. We felt compelled to get involved to hopefully reach people right here in our own community. We want to share Caleb’s story in the hopes that it might save someone else the same fate. Knowledge is power. As soon as we knew Caleb died from colon cancer, we knew we had not only an obligation to get ourselves screened, but also a duty to share the facts with others. We want to spread the message that colon cancer is NOT an older person’s disease.

Christmas 2012

Caleb, Elysia and their family on Christmas 2012.

If you’re thinking about starting a fundraising or awareness event in your community, I say DO IT! It’s the most rewarding thing you could do! We found that once we started to advertise our event, the people in our community embraced it (and us!). Starting with people that knew us and knew what happened to Caleb really helped. It’s amazing how word-of-mouth travels and your efforts start gaining momentum!

Do you have any advice for someone who recently lost a loved one to this disease?

First and foremost, if it is a close relative you must get screened yourself. Secondly, I encourage you to reach out to the community of survivors, caregivers and loved ones who have had a similar loss due to colon cancer. It is something that binds us all together. As my family and I like to say, we’re all united in blue!

What do you want people to know about colon cancer?

First of all, I want people to know that colon cancer is NOT an older person’s disease. It can happen to anyone at any time. Caleb didn’t make it to age 50, which is the recommended screening age. Jessica likely wouldn’t have either. That’s why Caleb’s Colonoscopy Crew staunchly supports the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Never Too Young campaign. Secondly, I want people to be aware that this disease is 90% preventable. With that being the case, why wouldn’t you get screened?

Want to learn more? Check out the team page where you can read more or donate to Caleb’s Colonoscopy Crew. And don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help! 

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