COLORS FOR A CURE: Columbus man with cancer uses 66-mile kayak trip to raise funds for other patients

For some people, birthdays are a chance to slow down and kick back.

However, Columbus resident and Seymour native Toby Stigdon has other plans for this year’s festivities — namely, paddling 66 miles across the state to raise funds for cancer patients.

Stigdon, who turns 43 on Oct. 10, has a terminal diagnosis of poorly differentiated thyroid cancer. He’s using his trip — aka “Kayaking for Cancer” — as a way to raise funds for other cancer patients and their families, asking that individuals donate to the Schneck Medical Center Foundation to show their support.

The trip begins tonight. Before Stigdon leaves, Upland Columbus Pump House will hold a launch party from 6-8 p.m. The public is invited to stop in and “toast Toby off on his Kayaking for Cancer adventure.”

Stigdon will traverse the East Fork White River from Columbus to Sparksville, Indiana. The plan is to complete the 66.7-mile journey in about three days. Stigdon’s brother, Levi, and two of his cousins will accompany him on the trip.

He’s also heard from other individuals, including some cancer survivors, who want to go on the trip too. His response? The more, the merrier, even if they only want to come part of the way. If more people are along for the ride, it’ll attract more attention to the cause, he said.

“God willing, if I’m here next year, we’re going to do it again,” said Stigdon. “Or hopefully my family will continue on the fundraising.”

At first, his goal was merely to raise $6,600, with 100 donors each giving $66 to mark the length of his trip. However, he quickly surpassed the $6,600 mark and hopes to double his original goal for a total of $13,200. As of Sept. 8, he had raised $12,000.

“I don’t want momentum to slow down,” he said. “I want all the caring people out there to continue to care, because, again, this fundraiser is not for me. This is for the people who will be battling in the future, and I want them to know that there’s thousands of people out there that care about them.”

Stigdon attributes much of the success to the support of Upland Columbus Pump House and server/bartender Jessica Franklin. When he asked if the restaurant would post fliers, she “ran with it.”

About 10 minutes after speaking to Franklin, Stigdon ran into Tony Moravec — owner of the Pump House — and his son, Ryan, who donated $200 right then and there.

“I think, when you and I first met, you had just started, right?” said Franklin. “You were a couple hundred dollars into it. And within 48 hours, we got $1,800. I think that was phenomenal. I’d love to see that every day.”

Stories by the Seymour Tribune and Louisville’s WDRB station have also helped spread the word.

One donation even came in from a friend of Franklin in Colorado — someone who will likely never see Schneck’s cancer center in person, said Stigdon.

“Our story has reached as far south as Louisville and here through Columbus, as far west as Colorado, and as far east as my family in New York,” he said.

He also wanted to give shout-outs to Upland, Circle K and Taylor Brothers Construction for their support.

When asked how he came up with the idea of Kayaking for Cancer, Stigdon said he’s always enjoyed helping others, and his dad instilled in him a love of the outdoors. Additionally, the big trip takes place on his birthday weekend.

“What easier way to ask somebody to donate to a good cause and have fun celebrating my birthday?” said Stigdon.

He reached out to the Schneck Medical Center Foundation about the idea, and executive director Stephanie Flinn was on board. She had told him about how there were patients at the cancer center who couldn’t afford the gas to make it to their appointments or couldn’t find the funds to pay for their medication.

The funds that Stigdon raises will go to meeting patients’ needs. He added that, depending on how much is raised, the cancer center may begin automatically giving gift cards to new patients, along with a note from Stigdon and his contact info in case they want to talk.

Stigdon was diagnosed in May 2021 with poorly differentiated thyroid cancer that metastasized to his lungs.

“I have numerous tumor nodules that are unresponsive to Chemotherapy, therefore this is a terminal diagnosis,” Stigdon wrote in his Kayaking for Cancer flier.

It started with his wife noticing a large lump on his neck and saying that he needed to have his thyroid examined. Stigdon met with a few different doctors after that. At one point, he was told that he had anaplastic thyroid cancer, which is extremely aggressive. If that were the case, he would’ve only had a year to live.

This turned out not to be true. However, the verdict was that his condition was still terminal and that there were “enumerable tumors” in his lungs.

He told The Republic that he will undergo one more radioactive iodine treatment and then go on a pill that will shrink the blood vessels in his tumors. While he has heard about other patients that have lived three to five years on this medication, it’s hard to say how long he has.

“I’m hoping with the prayers and the fight that I make 10 years to see my kids or, God willing, just be miraculously cured,” said Stigdon.

He added that he’s happy with however much he can get, though he does cry, sometimes, when he’s alone and he thinks about leaving his family. Still, he’s grateful for the people in his life — and having previously worked in long-term care, he feels he’s lived “100 lifetimes” with the stories he’s heard.

“When my time comes, I’ll be at peace,” he said.