To celebrate his 50th birthday,
Antonio Diaz’s wife scheduled him for a colonoscopy – arguably a gift
considered most unromantic. But for Diaz, the test proved to be the
ultimate gift that keeps on giving. It saved his life.
Diaz, a Hartford resident, was one of
140,000 American men and women diagnosed with colorectal cancer in
2012. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the
U.S., but if everyone over age 50 were screened regularly, as many as
60% of these deaths could be avoided. Age is the single largest risk
factor for colorectal cancer. It primarily arises from mucosal growths
in the colon, and it is removable if caught early.
Maria Diaz, Antonio’s wife of 26
years, told him, “I’ve made you an appointment to see the doctor because
you’re 50 and you’re supposed to have one at 50.’” He didn’t want to do
it, but Diaz knew better not to argue with her. He admitted, “If it
were up to me I would’ve just let it go another one or two years.”
Colorectal cancer is often referred
to as a silent killer because often there are no symptoms until it is
too late. Diaz was no exception. “I never felt tired or anything,” he
said. ”I’ve been healthy all my life and I get regular check-ups.”
One-third of Americans who should be
screened for colon cancer are not. That’s often because people aren’t
aware that it’s recommended, and even when it is recommended, the
colonoscopy’s unpleasant reputation or cost prevents them from taking
“It was slightly uncomfortable and
I’d heard a lot of stories, but it wasn’t that bad,” said Diaz about his
colonoscopy. “It’s just a one-day thing. They put you to sleep and you
don’t feel anything. I woke up after it was over and asked, ‘so when are
you going to do this?’”
Several tests are available to screen
for colorectal cancer. Tests other than a colonoscopy look for blood in
the stool or use X-rays to examine the intestine. Bronson’s colorectal
surgeon, Edward Itawi, MD, emphasizes the importance for patients to get
over their squeamishness.
“Screening is the best tool we have
to diagnose and treat early forms of colon cancer. This, in addition to
a healthy lifestyle, adding fiber and partnering with a primary care
physician that has a vested interest in your health is the ultimate game
plan for beating the odds.”
When Diaz’ test results revealed a
cancer in his lower colon, he described it as “the worst feeling ever”
and wondered how many months or years he had left to live. During his
surgical consultation, Dr. Itawi asked Diaz about his decision to get
tested, and Diaz pointed to his wife seated next to him. Dr. Itawi told
them, “If you had waited six more months, we would be talking a
On a Monday, Diaz underwent a
minimally-invasive, laparoscopic resection surgical procedure at Bronson
Hospital to remove the tumor. He returned home that Wednesday knowing
he had gained a new chance for life. Diaz is currently undergoing six
months of chemotherapy because the colon tumor had spread to local lymph
nodes, but his prognosis is good.
Diaz’ experience left him with an
overwhelming sense of gratitude. “Since I found out I had cancer,
everything has changed. I feel closer to God and to my family. I think
totally different. I’m more concerned with everyone around me -- who
they are and what they need. It’s not just from the possibility of dying
-- I don’t know why I changed; I just did.”
Diaz hopes that by sharing his story,
others will be inspired to get tested. While the tumor he had was
discovered and removed just prior to it spreading outside the colon,
many of the tumors discovered during screening colonoscopies are smaller
and do not require further surgeries.
“Most people don’t want to do it, but
it could save your life like it saved mine. It’s worth it just for the
peace of mind. You need to do it. Don’t wait. Every minute and every day
Colon Cancer: Are You at Risk?
Bronson offers free and confidential
online risk assessments for colon cancer and other diseases. Take the
assessment by visiting www.learnyourrisk.com.
A free conference titled, Colon Cancer: Are You at Risk will
be held Saturday, March 9, from 9:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at The
Gilmore Center for Health Education at Bronson Methodist Hospital in
Attendees will learn about how family
health history relates to colon cancer and tips for prevention. Lunch
will be provided. Contact Marybeth Peters at email@example.com or phone:
269-373-7450 to register.
More information about risk factors,
screenings and the benefits of early detection can be found on the
Center for Disease Control website, at www.cdc.gov/features/colorectalawareness or at the American Cancer Society, at www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer.
About Bronson Colon & Rectal Surgery
Bronson Methodist Hospital is a major
referral center for surgery in southwest Michigan. It is the area's
most preferred hospital for general surgery procedures and have been
recognized at the state and national level for quality of care.
Bronson’s skilled surgeons and staff perform highly technical procedures
including minimally-invasive, robotic colon, rectal surgery and
oncology (cancer) surgery.
Bronson Colon & Rectal Surgery works with Bronson’s Nurse Navigator Service. This free service offers a single contact for patients and their families through their cancer journey. The nurse navigator helps patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options, helps coordinate care, and connects patients to community resources.
Bronson Colon & Rectal Surgery is located at 601 John Street, Suite M-302, in Kalamazoo, MI. Visit www.bronsonhealth.com, or call (269) 341-4890 for more information.
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