M̶e̶d̶i̶c̶i̶n̶e̶ Plaid Hat, Alberta: a community comes together
[aside: Chris Hellman, Dominique Hirsch, Sarah MacKenzie & Mayor Ted Clugston kicking off Plaid Hat at Medicine Hat’s iconic world's largest tee pee]
Medicine Hat, Alberta, population 63,000, is proof that when a community comes together, amazing things can happen. The city transforms into “Plaid Hat” every June as part of Prostate Cancer Canada’s Plaid for Dad campaign.
The city’s passion to change lives for men with prostate cancer and their families dates to 2010, when a group of friends created a city-wide team for Movember.
“The team wasn’t just a small group of friends or relatives, it wasn’t corporate,” says Chris Hellman, a founder of the MedHat Movember group. “It was a whole city team that anyone could join, regardless of how much they could raise. We had 117 participants the first year and were a top 20 fundraising team in Canada.”
Chris credits the original MedHat Movember team to Brian Bauman, a local business owner and friend to many. Since his early passing from cancer in 2013, the team has been carried on in his honour by Chris, Sarah MacKenzie, and Brian’s son, Matthew Brassard, a group of local business owners who have created life-long friendships through their fundraising and community efforts.
As the owner of the local Mr. Lube, Chris knows a lot about prostate cancer. Mr. Lube Canada’s president and owner, Ted Ticknor was lost to prostate cancer in 2006 and it is a topic of discussion at work.
“It was a group of friends and acquaintances that turned into life-long friendships,” says Sarah. Her dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007 in his early 50s, which is why she got involved. “After my dad’s surgery, they tested the tumour and it turned out to be stage IV. If he hadn’t ended up getting help in that timeframe, he wouldn’t be here today.”
Creating a movement
The team continued and grew for about eight years, until Chris joined Prostate Cancer Canada’s Prairies Leadership Council and looked for other opportunities to make a difference.
“In Medicine Hat we don’t have huge buildings like in Calgary or Edmonton where you can put on big events like the Step Up Challenge,” he says. “That’s when Plaid for Dad started and I thought, ‘This is something that we can really get behind.’ We didn’t need tall skyscrapers or a huge population.”
That first year, Chris and his team encouraged local businesses and restaurants to host events and donate funds. The campaign was covered by local media. The mayor and police force became long-term partners. It was a resounding success.
A mainstay since the start is the local Western Major Baseball League team’s Plaid for Dad game. At the Mavericks Father’s Day game, players wear plaid jerseys that spectators can purchase to show their support.
Expanding Plaid Hat
In 2016, Bob Will extended Medicine Hat’s participation in Plaid for Dad by spearheading a golf tournament that raised $30,000. It sold out in its first two years and he’s adding spaces to meet demand.
To make even more noise, Bob wears plaid every day in June. “I’m a good ‘90s kid, so I have a ton of plaid,” he jokes. “My girlfriend is on board, and my daughters talk to everyone about the golf tournament.”
Deanna Haysom has taken part in the tournament since it began. She experienced the challenges of watching her husband go through multiple surgeries and treatments after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2012. Because some of her friends were involved with Plaid Hat, it was a natural fit for her as well.
“What I enjoy most is speaking to others about their experience, especially if it’s a spouse,” says Deanna. “People always asked how my husband was doing, but they never asked me. That can sound selfish, but when you’re the spouse, you’re trying to hold it all together. So I try to talk to others and make sure they’re okay.”
Deanna appreciates hearing survivors speak about their experience at the event. The first year, the Chief of Police spoke at the tournament, just a week after having surgery to remove his prostate.
“The tournament has grown exponentially, it’s crazy,” says Bob. “It’s because it affects us all. I’m stunned by the support we get from the community.”