It's time for me to save a life - yours.
My name is Paul Corah. I have worked as a Firefighter for Portland Fire & Rescue for close to 29 years. Here at Portland Fire, our highest priority is to protect the safety of our citizens.
Part of my job is also to encourage and teach citizens how to keep themselves fire safe on a daily and long-term basis. But for a moment, I’m going to take off my fireman’s helmet and step away from talking about fire safety and prevention. Instead, I’m going to tell you a personal story in hopes to educate and inspire you to take action and focus on your personal safety, health, and wellness.
Because here at Portland Fire & Rescue, we believe that the safety and wellness of our employees and our citizens is fundamental. And that includes you.
If you're going to turn 50 in the next couple of years or are over 50, I want to talk about the importance of screening for and preventing one of the most preventable cancers – colon cancer.
My grandfather who is still living at the age of 97 has colon cancer and is living with it. My Dad and all my sisters promised each other that the day we turned 50 years of age, we would get a colon cancer test. Colon cancer is a killer if not caught early and I promised my family that the week after my 50th birthday I scheduled a screening test.
I picked up the phone and made a call to the doctor's office, scheduling the screening test but not really understanding what the test would include and how much I really was at risk for developing this type of cancer. Let me tell you - I have been thinking about this test all year, I really didn't know anything about it, and was a little afraid about what I would have to go through. For all of you thinking about having a test and thinking twice about going, it's no big deal, about 2.5 on a 10 scale. Before I tell you more, let me tell you about colon cancer.
Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States. While many cancer cases and deaths occur needlessly, they could be prevented if more people took advantage of colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is cancer of the colon (the large bowel or large intestine) and the rectum. Colon cancer may begin as non-cancerous polyps, which are grape like growths on the lining of the colon and rectum. For reasons that are not fully understood, these polyps may become cancerous. If fact, research has shown that up to 90% of colon and rectum cancers can be PREVENTED by just finding and removing polyps before they become a cancer. According to the National Colon Cancer Research Alliance, nearly 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer each year and it is one the most curable cancers when detected at an early stage.
Some of you may say if I feel pain in my body I will go get it checked by a doctor. Well, colon cancer can affect anyone of us - men or women - and your risk increases with age. Some people are at greater risk for the disease than others and include:
- People with a personal or family history of colon polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's Disease
- People with a personal or family history of colon, ovarian, endometrial, breast, or some other cancers of the GI tract or the female reproductive system
- People of African-American descent, who are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease and who should start screening at an earlier age
- Men and women age 50 or older
The hardest part of having colon cancer screening is making the phone call to your doctor. I know this sounds silly, but it's the first step and the rest is easy. I called a gastroenterology clinic and set up my first appointment. The clinic stated that I needed to have a pre-appointment before my screening test or colonoscopy but that I could do this on the phone and did not need to come in. I agreed and they called me the next day and asked me questions about my lifestyle, symptoms, and family history. I was told the pre-appointment by phone would take 30 minutes, but it only took 9 minutes.
I then received a package in the mail the following day with a prescription for the medicine I needed to take the day before the colonoscopy. Also included where instructions on what I could eat and not eat the day before the screening. The day before my screening was no big deal. I had to go on a liquid diet from 12:00 am until 6:00 pm and then had to drink a gallon of liquid that tasted like lemonade. They give you 3 1/2 hours to drink the liquid, but I finished it off around 9:00 pm. As you might guess, the drink quickly “assisted” in cleaning out my system and I slept soundly through the night.
After arriving to the clinic, I was taken into the back and settled into a nice room. I was given an IV, oxygen, and warm blankets. After I was given anesthesia, I quickly fell asleep. The physician then used a colonoscope to view the lining of my colon. When the procedure was complete, I briefly spoke with the physician. He noted that he performed this procedure about 30 times a day and reminded me that besides regular screening tests every ten years, a healthy diet and lifestyle is very important in reducing my personal risk of colon cancer.
I had coordinated a ride home from my wife because of the medications during the procedure. I took the rest of the day off but was back to work, good as new, the next day.
Why am I telling you my story?
I am hoping that sharing my story will encourage others to take the first step and make a phone call to get the process started and - possibly - save their life. Remember, the key to preventing colon cancer is to get tested starting at age 50 if you’re at average risk or at an earlier age if you are at increased risk. Please get regular screening tests and tell everyone you know that screening tests can prevent colon and rectal cancer.
Learn more about colon cancer, prevention tips, and treatment options at the American Cancer Society's website at http://www.cancer.org/docroot/lrn/lrn_0.asp.
Portland Fire & Rescue
March 11, 2010