My best friend in the whole world – let’s call him Sam – is a great guy, father of two, active in the community, a marathon runner, does complex work in support of interplanetary space missions, wicked sense of humor, loyal…well, ok you get the picture.
His mom died of colon cancer at a very young age.
Naturally this wasn’t the first topic we ever discussed after we met but eventually it came up. Now I knew that if you lose a close relative to colon cancer at an early age, it may very well be genetic and you might be at risk. So I embarked on a gentle campaign to get him to go to the doctor and have himself evaluated. Not only did he not have any symptoms – picture of health – he’s a guy. And in my experience, guys – no offense – don’t like to go to the doctor unless blood is gushing or bones are sticking out.
And no one wants to have a colonoscopy. I’ve had two and yes, the prep is the worst part but none of it is fun except maybe the drugs they put you to sleep with.
After about a year of intermittent nudging from me, he went to the doctor. We were talking later that day and I asked when the colonoscopy was going to be, so I could schedule the day off to drive him home. “Oh,” he says, all innocent, “The doctor said I didn’t need to have one.” My first thought was that the physician in question must be a quack but then I had a flash of intuition. “Sam,” I said, “Did you tell him about your mother?”
He got a very sheepish look and shook his head. He’d decided that if the doctor asked him about his mother, he’d bring up the cancer concern and if the doctor didn’t go there, then everything was ok! And what doctor is going to randomly think about genetic colon cancer out of the blue when doing a routine physical on a very healthy young man in his early thirties?
I went ballistic at the lunch table (because I love this guy like a brother), ending with “You call him back this afternoon and tell him about your mother or I swear I will.”
Long story short, the doctor ordered a colonoscopy immediately. Arriving at 11:00 AM on the day of the procedure to cart my woozy friend home, I asked how it went.
“I have cancer.”
His colon was riddled with cancer, an advanced stage but luckily for him, had not yet spread. When they removed all of it a few days later and took the nearest lymph nodes to biopsy, there was no sign of metastasis. Since the cancer was genetic in origin, he didn’t have to have radiation or chemo, he can eat anything (except certain vegetables and spices)…ten years later (in September this year), he’s back to running marathons and is the picture of health.
One of the things I am most proud of in this life is having pestered Sam to tell his doctor the family history…so that he got to see his boys grow up, his loving family still has him as their anchor, and I got to keep my wonderful best friend.
If just one person who reads this blog goes and talks to their doctor honestly about a health problem or concern they are having, I’ll be satisfied.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Screening Month. This form of cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths currently and 60% of the deaths could be avoided with early screening. By the time the symptoms show up, it’s can be too late for a happy outcome. If you’re over 50, go, get screened!
(Here’s just one website with a discussion of risk factors and symptoms; there are many out there on the web.)
If you have any questionable family history as my friend Sam did, please talk to your doctor (and don’t wait for them to guess your hidden agenda, ok?).
Best wishes to all!