Does the title make you cringe a little?
Well, you’re not alone! Colon cancer is not something people prefer talking about, but it should be. Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. When detected in its early stages, it is more likely to be cured, treatment is less extensive, and the recovery is much faster.
That’s awesome news, right? Sure, but the bad news is that the colon cancer screening rates in Missouri and Kansas are both just under 65 percent.
Alright, what are we supposed to watch for so we can improve these statistics? Symptoms for colon cancer can be a change in bowel habits or appearance of your stool, bleeding from the rectum, blood in your stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement, dark- or black-colored stools, cramping pain in your lower stomach, a feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one, or unintentional weight loss.
Another major contributor to colon cancer is simply being related to someone who has had colon cancer. Did you know that people with a parent, sibling, or offspring with colon cancer have two-to-three times the risk of developing colon cancer compared to those with no family history of the disease? How about when a relative is diagnosed at a young age, or if there is more than one affected relative, the risk increases to three-to-six times?
When you ask questions and talk about your family history, you may be surprised to find out that one of your relatives had colon cancer, putting you at a higher risk.
At this point you may be thinking, “This is an old man’s disease, I have years before I need to start worrying about that!” Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are wrong, my friend. One in seven colon cancer cases occur in those under age 50.
The misconception of being “too young for colon cancer” is believed by both patients and doctors. Half of the battle is getting patients to know and understand the symptoms, and the other half is getting doctors to consider it an option. Initial misdiagnosis happens to 15 – 50 percent of young patients.
This may all be new information to you, but this is a topic that three Kansas City women know about all too well.
Ginny and Ryan
Ginny met Ryan Goddard at Northwest Missouri State University before they moved to Kansas City in 2003 and were married in August 2008. In January 2009 they moved into a new house and were ready to start their lives. In March, Ryan told Ginny that he didn’t feel well; for the most part, he just had severe lower back pain. After countless appointments and wrong diagnoses, he was diagnosed with colon cancer five months later.
Ginny recalls, “I remember leaving the doctor’s office and the only thing he could tell me was how he didn’t want to call his mom because he didn’t want her to worry. We were both a wreck.” Surgery soon followed, and then chemotherapy; Ryan continued to work throughout his treatment.
In January 2010, they found out that the cancer had spread to his brain, and in July he was intubated after having difficulty breathing. “I didn’t know that would be the last time I would ever tell him I loved him” Ginny said. Ryan was on life support for 10 days, and passed away on Aug. 2, 2010 — less than a year after being diagnosed.
Ryan was only 29 years old.
A short time later, Ginny met a Gastroenterology nurse name Kari Lorenzen.
While working at an outpatient endoscopy center, Kari noticed a decrease in colon cancer screenings around 2010. She decided she wanted to get the word out, not only about the importance of getting a colonoscopy, but getting the public more informed about colon cancer in general.
She started looking for colon cancer races to promote and raise awareness, and found Get Your Rear in Gear. She loved the name, because it reminded her of her mom when she would talk to her as a kid. And, the fact that most of the money raised at the race stays in the Kansas City area was another great aspect for her!
Together, she and Ginny started the first Get Your Rear in Gear 5K here in Kansas City.
And then there’s me…
I was 4 years old when my father lost his battle with colon cancer. He was diagnosed at 37 and passed away a month after his 40th birthday. A tumor in his colon had ruptured, sending him to the hospital where he found out he had colon cancer, and that it had spread to his liver. His mother, father, sister, and several other family members had colon cancer, and lost their battles as well.
I inherited a lot of things from my father: his genetically weak and crooked teeth, his stubby fingers, an incredibly sarcastic attitude, and his love for the St. Louis Cardinals. I have embraced all of that, and I feel honored that I carry on those characteristics. But one thing that always scared me was that I may have inherited was colon cancer. After several years of insurance rejections and doctors not having my back, I finally found a doctor who would listen and scheduled my first colonoscopy the day of my appointment. Luckily, everything came back clear, and I’m due for another one in four years.
So, what brings these three ladies together other than their personal connections to this awful disease?
We all are local event directors for the Get Your Rear in Gear Kansas City 5K Run/Walk and Kids Fun Run, passionately volunteering our time to raise money, spread awareness, and expand education in the KC Metro area.
The money raised at each race stays in Kansas City to fund programs aimed at increasing colon cancer awareness, screening, and early detection of the disease. Funds from past Get Your Rear in Gear events in Kansas City have gone to the Frank and Daisy White Colon Cancer Foundation, the Andrew Somora Foundation, the Thomas O’Sullivan Foundation, the YMCA Cancer Exercise Program, and the billboard awareness campaigns, as well as funded local public awareness initiatives and screening programs, including new a stool-based testing program for the under-served population in Kansas City.
This year’s race will be held on Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Zona Rosa shopping center in North Kansas City. Registration information is available online at ColonCancerCoalition.org/KansasCity. Information about volunteering, fundraising, sponsoring the event or forming a team is also posted on the website.
So, poop may not be high on your list of conversation topics, but I hope after reading this, you bring it up more often with your friends, family, coworkers, folks sitting next to you on the Streetcar, people standing close to you while waiting for a table at a restaurant, or even while you’re washing your hands in the restroom.
Talking about this is the first step in early detection, and with early screening and testing, colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable!