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Published on February 21, 2020

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Three-Year Plan Man: Facing Cancer Risk and Taking Control

Write what you know is advice they always give people, and it applies to health care marketing as well as novels, poems or anything else.

So I’m applying that advice – and I’m writing about cancer. I wish I was referring to information on a website or from an Avera expert. I wish I didn’t know so much about cancer, but I had a crash course in it at 14 when my dad died of esophageal cancer. It was almost like a heart attack – not the typical journey one saw on TV in the 1980s.

He had pain when he swallowed, went to a doctor, got admitted. And two nights later my mom left in the middle of the night because he was gone.

It was May, and I had driver’s education the next day, and I went. It was a really overwhelming situation that still shapes – and shakes – me and how I live.

So three years ago, as an earnest writer for Avera’s public relations team, I was interviewing doctors and learning all about family history and colon health. So I thought it out this way: My dad died at 50. I am now 48. I should probably do something.

I got a referral to see a specialist. He explained that unlike colon cancer, cancers of the esophagus are not as directly related to family history. So I thought, hey, I guess I was wrong about this — great to hear it.

But when my lab work came back with low iron in my blood, they reversed course and recommended I get my first colonoscopy two years before the recommended time. So I did, and while I was at it, I had an endoscopy, which is a similar exam. One looks at the colon, the other the food tube and stomach.

So in reality, I wasn’t due for these exams, but the low iron seemed to indicate something. I am glad I did them though. The prep isn’t that horrible – you do spend a lot of time on the pot – but it made sense. You certainly want the experts to have “smooth sailing” during their exploration of your innards.

I do remember trying to “stay awake” once the IV started but BOOM! I was out and like they say – remembered nothing but waking up in the recovery room.

Going early was probably a great idea because as it turned out, I had seven polyps. Three were the grim “wrong size” and shape – they were likely something bad. The other scope showed some tissue in my stomach that was also questionable. So off to the biopsy lab went those samples. I went home.

The results were good news: nothing was precancerous or cancer. Great news, considering, but tempered with the fact that the number and size of the stuff they found made me a “three-year plan” person. Most folks don’t need another colonoscopy for a decade. I guess I’m special, and now that magic anniversary is almost here.

As the scheduling and preparation unfolds, I will admit: I am nervous. I’m also happy, because I sort of led the way with a group of my 50-something friends who now have all had their colonoscopies. It’s great – but I’m scared. I had a lot of polyps.

But the fear is something you face – take control of the things you can – and so we’ll go back and see. Hoping for a number less than seven. Zero would be great. But the important thing in all this is head-in-the-sand action is not allowed. I got it done – everyone should get their screening exams on time.

Even if it means you go onto a new plan. Learn more at Avera.org/colon.

Jarett Bies is a Writer/Editor with Avera Marketing.

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