Vince Lombardi. Darryl Strawberry. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Ken Stabler. Tom Lehman. All have one thing in common: They’re all sports stars that had colon cancer.
Dr. Ed Brown is retiring this summer. In case you don’t know Dr. Brown, he’s a gastroenterologist that has served this community long and well.
I got to know Dr. Brown almost 28 years ago, when I showed up in his office. You see, I had a grandmother and an aunt that died of colon cancer. And my mom had colon cancer.
So, at age 40, I showed up at Dr. Brown’s office to schedule my first colonoscopy.
Let me tell you about a colonoscopy (without getting too graphic). First of all, you’re asleep, so it is painless and not cringe-worthy. Using a flexible tube with a light and a camera at the end, the gastroenterologist examines your colon.
That’s it. You wake up, go get something to eat and go home. Any suspicious places (usually a thing called polyps) are removed and sent to pathology. A few days later you get a report from the pathologist.
I didn’t mention the hard part. The day before the procedure, you can only have clear liquids (my clear liquid of choice was hot lemon Jell-O) and then at the end of that day, you take medicine to, shall we say, clean you out, and it does a good job of it.
The next morning, you head in for the colonoscopy and meet some really nice folks that do this sort of thing every day. I met a really nice anesthetist named Bill — Propafol keeps me from remembering his last name — who was thorough and personable.
Dr. Brown is a quiet, very professional physician with enough wry sense of humor to keep the whole process in perspective. When he called me this week with the pathology report, I thanked him for his many years of excellent care. Here’s the good news — colon cancer, found early, is 100% treatable. That’s where the colonoscopy comes in. That’s how you find it early.
Who should consider screening for colonoscopy? All men and women over 40. Period.
But beyond that, what are signs that there could be a problem? Unexplained changes in bowel habits. Blood in their stool. Unexplained weight loss, chronic constipation or diarrhea.
Anyone with a family history of colon cancer should get screened. The screening may be as simple as a medical exam and a laboratory test.
Should everyone get a colonoscopy? That’s for your doctor and you to decide. The American Cancer Society recommends that anyone with a family history should begin getting a colonoscopy at age 45. For some, at higher risk, sooner than that.
As for me, I depend on my gastroenterologist to keep me healthy and so, I will do whatever they tell me to. Dr. Brown is retiring, but I have great confidence in one of his young colleagues, Dr. Isaac Cline, who I’ve known since he was nine or ten.
And I’m counting on Dr. Cline keeping me safe from colon cancer for many years to come.