Who Are We Wednesdays - Hailey Silfies
WEST CHESTER --- Parents cannot always choose when their kids will learn about cancer. Some children hear about the disease in either middle or high school. Others are forced to come to terms with the harsh reality at a much younger age. For Hailey Silfies, it was the latter.
Silfies is a 21-year-old college student at West Chester University. She is majoring in communications studies and minoring in women and gender studies. When she is not studying, Hailey says she enjoys listening to music, specifically her fiancee Gavyn playing the tuba. The two are engaged and set to be married in November.
"We definitely bonded over our music. That's something I'm very grateful for," says Silfies.
If her last name sounds familiar that is because Hailey is the second oldest daughter of Every Ribbon Counts co-founder, Abby Silfies. Hailey says one way she has bonded with her mother is through Abby's work.
"I had always looked up to what she had done especially with the cancer network. Her job always seemed so fun and she gets to change people's lives and that's always something I've wanted to be apart of," says Hailey.
Abby says she first recognized Hailey's passion when Hailey was a little girl.
"Since a young age, Hailey has grasped the philanthropic mindset," explained Abby. "As a mom, there is nothing that makes you prouder than seeing your child want to give back."
Hailey first started giving back at six-years-old when Abby's childhood friend, Lindsey John was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. Hailey and her four sisters would go with their mom to visit John, affectionally known as 'LJ,' in the hospital. Hailey admits, in the very beginning, she did not know the severity of LJ's fight.
"We had always known that she (John) was sick. She was going through chemo," says Hailey. "We were just told LJ was getting her medicine."
When she was diagnosed at the age of 20, John was told she had six months to live. Despite the news, LJ and Abby kept the mood light for the girls.
"We visited her. She would dress up (in different costumes). We would do puzzles with her," says Hailey.
Hailey says it is also around that time when she and her family began taking part in 'Relay For Life,' the American Cancer Society's most successful fundraiser and the organization's signature event, according to its website. They joined LJ who had a team called 'Terminatin Cancer.'
Silfies says LJ was like an aunt to her. Her fondest memory is when their families got together for dinner at Penn State University. Hailey recalls the two sitting next to each other and bonding when each pulled the same hand sanitizer and sun glasses out of their purses.
"She was a lively young person. She was fun," says Silfies. "She was always a light when she came in the room."
LJ used that energy to extend her life further than doctors had originally given her. However, Hailey remembers the day the cancer ran its course in late November 2009.
"It was just me and Aurora (Hailey's youngest sister) and mom (at home). Mom came into my room and she told me and we packed up all of our clothes to drive immediately to Michigan (where John and Abby grew up)," Hailey says.
Silfies says they made it to Michigan for the funeral and "it was the quietest Thanksgiving ever" although John managed to take a six-month prognosis and live an extra three years. She passed at the age of 23.
When LJ died, Hailey and her family knew they would do what ever they could to keep her legacy alive. The following year, Abby created a Relay For Life team in Pennsylvania called 'Tutus for Tatas.' Teams normally have a handful of members. Around 100 signed up. The team had to get divided into two in the coming years. Hailey served as team captain of 'TFT Jr.'
Hailey has continued her philonthropic endeavors in LJ's honor at West Chester the past three years. Her freshman year, she got involved with 'Colleges Against Cancer,' a student-run subsidiary of the ACS. As a sophomore, she was voted Luminaria Chair and Vice President of her school's branch. This year, she was the President.
"It's a lot of hard work but I have a great event leadership team with me," Silfies says. "I still think I can do more."
To have things come full circle, Hailey was in the middle of planning WCU's very own Relay For Life event which was supposed to be held in the spring but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Silfies will graduate next year. Then, she and Gavyn are looking to go to Austin, Texas where he can continue his education at the University of Texas. Hailey says her goal is to work at a non-profit like her mom. Luckily, she says she is already getting "real world," non-profit opportunities while she serves as the youngest board member of ERC. It is a role she has held in the highest regard the past year.
"I feel like I'm really accepted even though I'm pretty young to be on a board and it's not just because I'm my mom's daughter," Silfies joyfully said. "My ideas are being thought out. I was apart of the team that created the Knockout Challenge."
In fact, it was Hailey who thought women should be added to the fundraiser alongside the men who were already competing. Also, she felt each team could fight for a different colored ribbon associated with the foundation, staying true to its mantra.
"It was such a cool atmosphere. It turned out better than I thought," Silfies said with a smile on her face.
With the future more and more on her mind, Hailey thinks about how she and her oldest sister, Ally Gilmore (also 21) are getting closer to the age LJ was when she passed away.
"We're at the age when she was sick and we're not so I feel like it brings even more power into what we're doing to be able to do this for her because she couldn't do it for herself anymore," says Silfies.
Unfortunately, Hailey will be thinking of another person as her efforts continue and it is one that she admits is hard to fathom. Two weeks ago, LJ's dad, Michael John passed away from stomach cancer. He was 59 years old. When she learned the news, Hailey says, "it just broke my heart honestly. I wasn't upset for myself. I was upset for their family. A little over 10 years ago, we lost LJ and now we lost her dad to the same thing. It's just so sad how much one family can lose to this disease."
Hailey says she shares the dreams of countless others to one day rid the world of this disease so it does not continue to do what it has already done to the John family.
"I wanna be able to live through them finding a cure," she says. "We can end this. Let's keep fighting til we find a cure and even after to be able to have people get that cure."
That way future generations can learn about cancer as an afterthought and not an ongoing deadly issue.