By Mario Guerreiro, a colon cancer survivor
When I blew out the candles on my 50th birthday cake, I knew I should schedule a routine colonoscopy, but I wasn’t too excited about the idea.
A few months later, during a routine exam, Dr. Margaret Taylor, my primary care physician, reminded me I was due for a colonoscopy. It seemed unnecessary since I was in good health and had no family history of colon issues, but I took Dr. Taylor’s advice and scheduled the colonoscopy.
Dr. Roy D. Libel performed my colonoscopy. It went as expected with minimal discomfort. The colonoscopy revealed three small polyps, two were pedunculated polyps, or polyps that grow on stalks from the colon wall. Dr. Libel explained this was not uncommon, and said the tissue would be submitted for a biopsy to ensure no cancer cells were present.
Since I eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, I was not too concerned about the biopsy. I had no symptoms, so I really did not give it much further thought. When Dr. Libel called to share that one of the pedunculated polyps was cancerous, I was totally shocked.
My wife and I were dumbfounded at the news, particularly since I had no family history of colon cancer. As a Mercy chaplain, minister and former educational administrator, I have counseled parishioners and students facing similar medical crises, but it was truly frightening to find myself in their place.
Dr. Libel recommended I consult with J. Patrick Brooks, MD, since colon resection surgery is often recommended in cases like mine. During this consult, I learned that during a colon resection, the diseased portion of the large intestine (or colon) is removed and the two healthy sections are then reattached.
I went back for a second procedure in which the site of the cancerous polyp was marked and also had a CEA test to determine if the cancer was widespread. As my wife and I conferred with Dr. Brooks and Dr. Libel about these results, a glimmer of hope began to form. We learned that due to the distance between the cancerous polyp and the healthy tissue, the colon resection surgery was optional. It appeared that the cancer was contained in the polyp (removed during the initial colonoscopy) and had not reached the colon wall.
My wife and I prayed about our options. It was a difficult decision, but we ultimately decided to hold off on the surgery, and wait six months for a follow up colonoscopy. My follow up colonoscopy came back clean. I have been cancer free for five years.
I am grateful first to God, but also to Mercy for the excellent care I received, and all the patience shown by my physicians while we assessed our treatment options.
If I had procrastinated on my first, routine colonoscopy, the cancer would have continued to grow unchecked. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Yet, when found early, it is highly curable.
A routine colonoscopy saved my life and it could save yours too. Thanks to early detection, I was able to avoid surgery, and other potentially painful and costly interventions.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Click here for resources from the American Cancer Society and National Colon Cancer Alliance.
March 2, 2018, is “Dress in Blue Day,” which encourages a colorful show of support for screening and awareness of the cancer.
Few people really look forward to a colonoscopy. But when you consider that it could save your life, it's a simple step worth taking. A colonoscopy is the best way to detect and prevent colon cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., and the easiest cancer to prevent.Experts recommend most people have a colonoscopy starting at age 50. People with a higher risk, such as having a family history of colon cancer, should be tested sooner.