LA GRANGE — Colon cancer does not discriminate based on age, race or gender, a fact that Candice Washilewski knows all too well.
“I see patients who’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer every day,” said Washilewski, who’s worked at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital for five years and is the director of medical surgical services.
“There’s a family history, too. My father is a survivor and my grandfather had it. Raising awareness is near and dear to my heart.”
That’s why when Washilewski saw a magazine article come across her desk four years ago about a group dedicated to raising awareness for colon cancer, she knew she had to bring members to Illinois.
“People come in, they have some symptoms that they don’t fully understand, that they can’t explain what it means,” Washilewski said. “Many patients I talked to didn’t have knowledge of who colon cancer affects. I thought, there’s got to be something bigger and better to get the word out there.”
In 2010, Washilewski teamed up with the Colon Cancer Coalition out of Minneapolis to bring its 5K race to the Chicago area.
“My goal was to raise money to give back to the community,” Washilewski said. “I wanted to provide educational awareness.”
In October 2012, she donated $25,000 of the proceeds from the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K Run/Walk that took place at Montrose Harbor to the new Adventist Cancer Institute, which is in the planning process to be built in Hinsdale.
“I was selective in where I wanted the money to go,” said Washilewski. “I wanted to make sure it was going toward educating patients properly on colon cancer awareness, and that funds were being distributed to patients that don’t have the funds to have a colonoscopy.”
Last year’s race saw about 800 participants.
“It continues to grow,” Washilewski said. “We’ve had repeat runners and each of the four years we’ve done this, the number of participants increases. It’s exciting.”
Of the money raised during the event, 75 percent goes back into the community and the remainder is used to fund more races and events.
“It makes me feel like I’m making a difference in the lives of others,” Washilewski said. “It’s well worth it.”
Her work in raising awareness and money for colon cancer hasn’t been ignored by officials at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital.
“Candice is an inspiring leader,” hospital CEO Lary Davis said in a statement. “We are awestruck and humbled by her commitment to giving back to the community.”