It was a beautiful, sunny fall day in Grand Rapids. The leaves were on the verge of changing color, signifying the official end of summer.

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at Millennium Park for a 5k in support of colorectal cancer: Get Your Rear in Gear, organized by the Colon Cancer Coalition.

The event raises funds for colon cancer screening and awareness, but it also serves as a call to take care of your body and make healthy choices.

A unique installation greeted guests as they arrived: a giant inflatable colon, dubbed “The Great Colon Tour.”

The display, which guests could walk through, featured information about common colon conditions and diseases, such as a malignant polyp, Crohn’s disease or advanced colon cancer.

And there was no avoiding it. Families could stroll right through the huge display, examining each polyp one by one, even stopping for selfies at the midway point.

Nearby, runners and walkers readied for the 5K, many donning T-shirts that sported phrases such as, “Get your rear in gear,” and, “Love your buns.”

Holly and Nate Kroeze walked the 5K with their three children. They attended in support of Holly’s brother-in-law, a colon cancer survivor.

“The whole family is here walking today,” Holly said. “The kids know why they’re here, too. We told them Uncle Spencer was sick and we are walking for people who are sick, so they know they are not alone.”

Their uncle, Spencer Vereecken, is race director for the annual Get Your Rear in Gear 5K, which Spectrum Health sponsors. A Spectrum Health team also participates in the event.

“We are all here today to raise awareness around colon cancer,” Vereecken said.

Doctors diagnosed Vereecken with colorectal cancer in 2018, as he was trying to become a living donor for a friend.

“On my last trip to the doctor, I had some pain in my abdomen,” he said. “I thought it was a hernia. But instead, I needed 12 rounds of chemo and a foot-and-a-half of my colon removed.”

Nadav Dujovny, MD, colorectal surgeon at Spectrum Health, encourages folks to get screened at an early age.

“This can be a stinky topic that a lot of people don’t necessarily want to talk about,” Dr. Dujovny said.

Following the recommended screening guidelines is one of the best ways to prevent colorectal cancer.

“Get in to get checked out on time and avoid any issues,” Dr. Dujovny said.

Did you know?

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. Some other facts:

  • Up to 25% of patients with colorectal cancer have a family history of the disease.
  • Age 45 is now the recommended age to begin screening for colorectal cancer.
  • By 2030, colorectal cancer is projected to be the No. 1 cause of cancer death in people ages 50 and younger.
  • Colorectal cancer is often preventable through early screening and diagnosis.

The team at Spectrum Health Cancer Center, which sponsors Get Your Rear in Gear, has long emphasized the importance of screening.

“The greatest part of getting screened is that it is preventative,” Katherine Williams, event associate at Spectrum Health, said. “If any polyps are found, they are removed right on the spot.”

She echoed Dr. Dujovny’s recommendation: Get screened early and often.

“Do it at the time that is right for you, based on your age or family history,” Williams said. “It is one of the easiest things you can do.”