March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month – an important month in our family. Colon cancer can strike anyone, at any age. Just ask Don. Don has been cancer free almost five years. Many consider colon cancer an “older” person’s disease. It is not.
More and more individuals, younger than 50, are being diagnosed with colon cancer. In fact, it is not recommended you have a colonoscopy until you turn 50. The incidence of colon cancer in individuals younger than 50 is rising. According to research, 50% of colon cancer could be prevented with lifestyle changes, and 95% could be cured with early detection.
And you know what?
You can be screened before age 50 (45 for African-Americans). You can seek another opinion if your current doctor won’t listen to your concerns. If you think something is wrong, or you have unexplained pain – go to the doctor, don’t wait. You can take steps now to protect yourself from cancer.
In December of 2012, Don began having severe cramps/pains in his lower stomach and side. He ignored them. They were getting progressively worse and he went to see our family doctor. She could not find anything causing them – no pain or hardness in his stomach and they would come and go. Without a clear diagnosis, she suggested he keep track of what he ate when he got the pains.
Around Memorial Day, 2013, Don came down with a “bug.” We went to the doctor – another one in the practice because ours was on vacation. We were told it was a virus, he was given some anti-nausea pills, and sent home. Don began vomiting, was unable to keep anything down, and became severely dehydrated. He felt there was something seriously wrong and went back to the doctor on a Thursday. This time, he was able to see our family physician and she scheduled him for tests at the hospital on Saturday.
Friday, Don woke up and felt there was something seriously wrong and called his dad to take him to the hospital. They ran tests and they came back showing a completely blocked bowel. As I drove down to the hospital from work, they were rushing him into emergency surgery with a team of amazing doctors.
The doctors removed a 16″ section of his colon. The mass was sent to pathology and came back as colon cancer. At the time, he was 37. He was immediately entered into a genetic study at The Ohio State University on Lynch Syndrome. (Lynch Syndrome is a hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer caused by genetic mutations.) Basically, Lynch Syndrome is a genetic cancer. It is believed Lynch Syndrome increases the risk of several types of cancer, including colon, stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, upper urinary tract, and skin. Women with Lynch Syndrome have a higher risk of ovarian and uterine cancer. We are awaiting the results of the study to find if Don does have Lynch Syndrome. If he does, the twins will have to be tested and monitored for the gene mutation. Lynch Syndrome is responsible for 3-5% of cancers discovered each year.
Colon and rectal cancers have increased dramatically and steadily in young and middle-age adults in the United States over the past four decades1
Don and I were lucky. They took 16 lymph nodes during his surgery, and all of them came back negative for cancer. He was staged at 2A and did not require chemo or radiation. We recently went for his six month checkup and he was clean. We will continue with follow-ups with the oncologist for the rest of his life.
Why am I sharing Don’s story?
There are things you can change today that can lower your risk of colon and other cancers. 50% of cancers could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes:
- Avoid red meats
- Avoid processed meats
- Add fiber to your diet: beans, tofu, whole-plants, whole-grains, nuts, and seeds
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Stop smoking
- Start exercising
- Make sure you get enough calcium and other nutrients and minerals
And, schedule an appointment TODAY to talk to your doctor about your colon cancer risk factors.
11,000 people in their 40s and 4,000 under 40 were diagnosed in 20131
Don was one of those 4,000 under 40.
I know I have treated this story as a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky one… but that isn’t reality. This was a difficult time on our family, our finances, and our marriage. At one point, while in the hospital, Don was rushed to ICU and kept overnight because he was having severe breathing difficulties. He lost over 50 pounds during the whole ordeal. He was sent home with an open wound – and the doctors expected ME to take care of it – so it could heal from the inside out. (After I almost knocked the doctor over running out of the room during the demonstration, they decided to get a nurse.) Don was off the entire summer on disability. It wasn’t fun and games. I couldn’t pay the house payment. Or any of the bills. The twins didn’t understand why they couldn’t hug daddy or sit on his lap or climb on him.
There were many bumps in the road and hurdles we had to jump. But, everything is good now. The whole experience brought us closer together and we realized what was most important – our family and our relationship with each other. After going through this with Don, I began to think how I could help others in this situation. I thought “why not use my blog for the greater good?”
If one person benefits from one of my posts, all the better. If my humor and snarkiness makes someone realize it is okay to talk about poop with your doctor – I have succeeded. If something I post makes something in someone’s head go “Hmmm… I should call the doctor” then I have succeeded as an advocate.
Please schedule an appointment with your doctor. Please begin making some of the lifestyle changes listed above. Visit the American Cancer Society’s webpage for more information.
Colon cancer can strike anyone at any age.
Just ask Don.