Colon Screening Saves Life of Hartford Man - Bronson Healthcare

Published on February 28, 2013

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 the advice.

“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 different ballgame”.

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 counts.”

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 Kalamazoo.

Attendees will learn about how family health history relates to colon cancer and tips for prevention. Lunch will be provided. Contact Marybeth Peters at mpeters@wmcc.org 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.