GREEN BAY, Wis. - Kari Hagenow of Green Bay was just 28-years-old and in the best shape of her life when she starting having diarrhea, constipation and bleeding. She never dreamed she'd hear the words, "You have colon cancer."
"It was a shock," said the avid runner. "I was very active right up until the day I was diagnosed, so that kind of took the wind out of my sails."
A surprise colon cancer diagnosis in 2014 put her on the sidelines.
"Lots of people say it's a good thing you went in, but I probably waited longer than I should have with the symptoms I had too."
Kari had surgery to remove the cancer and went through six months of chemotherapy.
"I tried to stay really positive through the whole thing. I had a great support system of family and friends and that made all the difference in the world."
Now three years cancer free, Kari is committed to raising awareness of the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. She's in the 10% of people who are diagnosed with colon cancer before the age of 50.
"I talk about it because I want people my age to understand that you can't just blow stuff off sometimes, you know. I'm really thankful I went to see the doctor because my whole journey could've been so much different."
Dr. Erik Johnson, a colorectal surgeon at Aurora BayCare Medical Center, helped save Kari's life. He stresses that early detection is key.
"There's a number of tests you can do. I'd say the number one is a colonoscopy, and we start that for most people at ages between 45 and 50. That's basically putting the camera into the large intestine and looking for those pre-cancer growths or any growths that are larger that actually are cancer," he explained.
If you have a family history of colon cancer, Dr. Johnson said that you should get screened even earlier. He and Kari plan to spread the importance of those screenings during the 4th annual Get Your Rear in Gear Run/Walk on Saturday, August 4th at 8:30am at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.
"Right around $15,000 we're hoping to raise this year, and all that money stays local here in Northeast Wisconsin to educate people and get those screenings done in a timely manner," said Co-Race Director Mike Schmidt.
Kari first participated in the race just a few months after completing treatment.
"To see these people who also went through this and were in such good spirits and motivated, that was really inspiring to me and gave me a sense of community too."
Now, Kari is hoping to inspire others.
"For me, it's a way to be active. It's a way to bring friends and family and rally around the cause, and to support and help other people who are going through the same thing I went through."
With every step, she'll also remember those patients whose cancer journeys ended much differently.
Proceeds from Get Your Rear in Gear will support the efforts of the Colon Cancer Coalition and local organizations. There is a 5K timed run, a 1.5 mile walk and a Kids' Fun Run. About 300 people are expected to participate including a team from NBC26. Anchor Cassandra Duvall lost her dad to colon cancer in 2005.