May 7 is set to be a special evening, and not just because it’s Chicago’s first Blue Hope Bash. This upcoming Saturday also represents a personal celebratory kickoff for host committee member and cancer warrior Jessica Catlin.
At only 39 years old, Catlin was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer, but not before other doctors had dismissed her symptoms because she was “too young for colon cancer.” After radiation, chemotherapy, surgery and then a reversal surgery, the cancer was no longer detected in her body. This June, she’s due for her five-year scans and is soaking up all of the good vibes—beginning with this weekend.
“I’m starting the party early,” she says.
Catlin became involved with Colorectal Cancer Alliance (CCA), the nonprofit organization that puts on Blue Hope Bash events around the country, after her own experience with the disease. She participated in one of CCA’s signature awareness walks, then served as a patient speaker in 2019. Over the past few years, CCA has helped her wish of serving as a lifelong advocate become reality.
“The Alliance does an amazing job at advocacy and awareness. As soon as I was diagnosed with this young onset cancer after being dismissed, I made it my mission to use my very extroverted voice, robust social media platform and all of my experience as an advocate over the years to raise awareness,” Catlin explains. “For the Alliance, that is their jam, because this particular disease—colorectal cancer—is so preventable and so treatable.”
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. Due to awareness efforts, diagnosis rates have dropped since the 1980s for older adults who undergo routine screenings and adjust related lifestyle choices. However, diagnoses have increased for people under 50.
To push progress in tackling colorectal cancer, CCA encourages dedicated volunteers to organize Blue Hope Bashes nationwide. The Bashes are premier fundraising events to “end colorectal cancer within our lifetime,” CCA says.
Chicago’s first Blue Hope Bash has been in the making for a couple of years now. The host committee originally started planning for the event in 2020, then the COVID-19 pandemic halted their valiant efforts. Much like the cancer journey, Catlin says, they had to learn to go with the flow.
“If we’ve learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s that you don’t always know what’s right,” she says. “You can’t hold up your entire life, but you have to have your planning and your plan B and trust that things are going in the right direction.”
Despite the hurdles, the host committee has put together an event extremely worthy of its Windy City debut that centers on the theme “Diamonds: From Pressure Emerges Strength.”
From 7–10 p.m. at Omni Chicago Hotel, guests will enjoy hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, live music from DJ Chris Reese, a silent auction and a special moment to remember those lost to colorectal cancer while honoring survivors. The event will be emceed by NBC 5 Chicago reporter Mary Ann Ahern, and Dr. Sheetal Kircher—Catlin’s own oncologist—is a featured speaker.
As for the dress code? Blue, of course.
“Alliance doesn’t have chapters across the country, so this event is an opportunity for people to really come together as a community,” Catlin says. “I’ve met so many people online and over the phone just planning this event. I’m thrilled to actually meet them in person and make those relationships as we work together to put an end to this disease.”
Tickets for survivors are $50, and general admission is $75. There is also a VIP option for just $125 if, like Catlin, you want to start the party early. Learn more at https://www.ccalliance.org/get-involved/blue-hope-bash-chicago.