BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Many fathers will tell you becoming a dad brings out the best in you. East Aurora dad Kevin Hays will tell you it saved his life.
"In 2014 I was 28-years-old. We had had our first kid, my daughter Abby. So I decided to do the adult thing, go to the doctor, go to the dentist. I got a colonoscopy. Didn't expect - any news. I was checking the box," he said.
But that trip to the doctor became much more than checking the box when Kevin went for a follow-up with his GI doctor. It wasn't the news he was expecting to hear.
"28-years-old. I was told I had cancer. I was on my way for a networking event," he said.
Kevin was diagnosed with stage two colorectal cancer. His story is one that's being seen in statistics across the country. While rates of colorectal cancer are decreasing for adults over the age of 50, they've been significantly on the rise among young people.
"We don't have a clear explanation for why the rates have gone up," explained Dr. Patrick Boland from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. "But they have essentially doubled in the under 50 population since the 90s."
Kevin went through surgery and had a tumor mass removed. That was followed by 12 rounds of chemotherapy to try and rid his body of cancer. After, he was carefully monitored.
"They're really looking for like a five-year mark. Once you hit five years no evidence of disease your rate of recurrence drops dramatically. Unfortunately I didn't get there," he said.
Kevin's cancer came back a second time then a third time this past fall. It was tough news for the young father of Abby, Ben, and now Charlotte.
"We had our third child while I was actively getting treatment. Baby Charlotte is six months, and I was holding my chemo pump while my wife was in labor," Kevin said.
Right now Kevin is on a maintenance chemo routine - hoping to get into a clinical trial. He's making it his mission to spread awareness and knowledge of colorectal cancer.
"First and foremost know your family history. Talk to your family," he said. "The other thing people our age need to be aware of are the symptoms. Changes in bowel habits. Bleeding. Persistent stomach discomfort."
Those are things he says sometimes aren't easy to talk about, but they are things that could save your life.
"It's easy to be the tough guy and say I'll be fine, I'll deal with it. But I'm case and point that you should take this seriously. Talk to your doctor, and get screened. If not for yourself for your family. If I didn't get screened and catch this, I wouldn't be here today."
If you have a family history or any of those symptoms you want to make sure you talk to your doctor. In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the suggested age most adults should be screened for colorectal cancer. It used to be age 50 but now, they're recommending most people get screened starting at 45.
For more information on signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, as well as why the ACS suggests screening for most people at 45, click here.
A local shirt designer created a shirt to help in Kevin's fight against cancer, and to assist in his mission of awareness. Proceeds from sales go to Kevin's family, and you can find a link to that shirt here.