This awkward topic can save your life, like it did mine

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

Last week, I wrote about a subject that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

People don’t like to talk about colonoscopies. They don’t want to be the brunt of jokes, but it is a very important topic. Getting one can make the difference between a quality lifestyle in our later years and fighting for our lives.

So, at the age of 58, I decided to undergo this procedure on the advice of my physician. The preparation is a hassle, but the procedure itself is short and simple. I was put to sleep and woke up 45 minutes later, all done.

I didn’t want to be one of the 50,000 people who die each year because polyps inside their colon develop into cancer. I also didn’t want to be one of the 120,000 each year who are diagnosed with colon cancer and face a long struggle with treatment.

Colon cancer occurs when polyps in the colon are allowed to grow. Once they develop, the only way to get rid of them is a colonoscopy. The simple procedure includes cutting out the polyps, which are later examined in a laboratory to determine whether they are benign or malignant.

There is no other way to know whether someone has colon polyps. By the time you feel any symptoms, the polyps have turned cancerous. If they go untreated, the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

• Carolyn Jones, actress, known for playing Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family.” Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1982, died one year later in 1983.

• Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” died at age 77, 60 days after diagnosis.

•Tony Snow, White House press secretary under George W. Bush, died July 12, 2008, at the age of 53.

• Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers, died of metastatic colon cancer.

• Elizabeth Montgomery, who is best known for “Bewitched” TV series, died at age 62, eight weeks after diagnosis.

• Rod Roddy, previous announcer for “The Price Is Right,” died at age 66, two years after diagnosis.

This is a very short list. There have been many other famous people who have succumbed to colon cancer. Being a famous does not make the polyps go away.

My procedure took a little longer than normal. When I woke up, the surgeon was there and explained what he found.

There were five polyps. That’s a lot. After three, it is recommended that the individual undergo another colonoscopy in five years.

I don’t eat red meat, and I eat a lot of fiber, fruits and vegetables. I exercise regularly. I fully expected the doctor to announce that I had no polyps, and I won’t have to have another procedure for 10 years.

But as it turns out, I had five. “Don’t lose any sleep over them,” the doctor said. “They were very little. I don’t expect them to be cancerous.”

Yes, but five? And what if he is wrong, and one of them already is?

The clinic supplied me with a complete report, and I jumped on the Internet machine to do my own research.

Each polyp was less than 5mm in size. My research indicated that under 10mm there is little to worry about. But remember, little polyps grow into bigger ones without any warning.

That made me feel better. The polyps are now gone. They were very small.

A week later I met up with the doctor, and he said he had some good news. All the polyps were benign, just like he thought. Hearing that made me feel even better.

Here is what this doctor has done for me, and does many times each day.

He made sure that when I turn 68 (or even earlier), I can be hiking, swimming and doing whatever I want instead of undergoing treatment for colon cancer because I am struggling to stay alive.

He has added many quality years to my life, as he has done for many other people. It’s just a daily routine for him and many other doctors who can easily zap those nasty colon polyps and give them zero chance of growing cancerous.

For me, it meant a lot more than that, as you can imagine. I call it a heroic act repeated many times daily.
Those people listed earlier didn’t have to die of colon cancer. It is 100 percent preventable with a colonoscopy.

Because I had five polyps, I’ll have to have another procedure in three years to see what is going on in there and whether anything else needs zapping. I’ll be glad to do it.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States, fourth in the world.

Over 90% of those diagnosed when the cancer is found at a local stage (confined to colon or rectum) survive more than five years. Once the cancer is diagnosed at a regional stage (spread to surrounding tissue) that rate drops to 70%. And so on.

At Stage IV, the survival rate drops to 11 percent. The simple fact is that a colonoscopy can zap all the polyps before they get a chance to become cancerous. Then, your survival rate jumps to 100 percent.

If you are over 50 and have not had a colonoscopy, schedule one. It may just be the best decision you’ll make in your long, healthy, active life.