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Remembering Tonya

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I remember the first time I saw Tonya. I immediately knew I liked her. Reading over her application to be a Colondar model, I had no doubt she embodied a survivor everyone would look up to. Pictures didn’t do her justice.

Yes, her beauty hopped off the page. But it was her strong spirit and insistence on being positive that could only come across in person.

It was at her 2014 Colondar photo shoot that I didn’t only realize she made an incredible model – I realized she was also an ideal advocate.

“We have got to DO SOMETHING about this!” she kept saying.

“I tell people that you become a survivor from the moment you decide to fight. I’m a survivor because I know that I’m a whole lot stronger than I thought I was. I have a responsibility to help other people along the way.”

As I interviewed her to write her bio, I saw my two worlds collide. After helping at The Colon Club’s photoshoot, I immediately told my team at Fight Colorectal Cancer that I’d found a new advocate for us. She was fired up and ready to take action.

And boy- did she take action.

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Walter, Tonya and GiGi with Rep. Hank Johnson

Just weeks later Emily and Anjee met this amazing woman full of strength and humor. Her stories about being threatened by her chemo nurses to get Benadryl if she didn’t settle down started to make sense. With her big smile and huge heart, she asked what she could do to help. Social justice was her passion. We immediately got her involved.

Tonya jumped right into advocacy at the first opportunity. With fellow Georgian advocate GiGi Lewis, she met with Rep. David Scott and heightened his awareness of the cause. She educated him about colorectal cancer and recruited his support.

Later, Tonya, GiGi and survivor Walter Hickman met with Rep. Hank Johnson. Sharing her story about a diagnosis of colorectal cancer at age 43 in 2011, she didn’t only gain his empathy – she also gained his support.

Thanks to her advocacy, both Reps. Scott and Johnson soon co-signed H.R. 1070 – one of our top legislative priorities that eliminates a charge for seniors getting a colonoscopy. After meeting with her, Rep. Johnson even called a friend to ensure he’d been screened.

The way she powerfully told her story and allowed her passion to enter every conversation was a gift. She made an impression on all who met her. She truly just wanted to help people.

Saying goodbye to our advocates never gets easy. I’m sad to lose my friend. All of our hearts are mourning with friends at The Colon Club who lost a family member.

For Tonya and the others we’ve lost, we continue to fight and advocate.

- Danielle

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