Early detection a key to surviving colon cancer - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Early detection a key to surviving colon cancer

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Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2002 12:00 am

By LAURA B. MARTINEZ

Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN Wally VanWyk never thought he could get cancer, much less colon

cancer. He lived what he believed was a healthy lifestyle. There were no signs

that he was sick.

Ive always had good health, he said. Ive never been to the hospital. Very

rarely has anything been wrong.

But in April 1995 at the age of 68, VanWyk was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The news came as a shock to VanWyk, his wife and their children. The family

had no history of cancer.

It never occurred to us that there was anything wrong, said Peggy VanWyk,

Wallys wife.

But an hour later, it was not a joking matter, she added referring to the

time after the colonoscopy was performed.

Colon cancer is an uncontrolled growth that occurs either in the colon or the

large intestine. It begins with a polyp. Since physicians cannot determine

whether the polyp is cancerous when detected, it has to be removed.

Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the state and it affects

both men and women equally.

VanWyks discovery came after he and his wife detected blood in his stool. He

notified his doctor, who then recommended a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a direct visual examination of the colon and rectum. A

colonscope a long flexible tube-like instrument is inserted into the

rectum.

This provides the doctor with video visualization to inspect the colon.

VanWyk said that during the colonoscopy, the instrument hit an obstruction,

which was not a good sign.

Eight hours later, the same day of the colonoscopy, VanWyk went into surgery

and had 18 inches of his colon removed.

The VanWyks hoped that everything would be fine after Wallys surgery but they

were wrong. A year later, physicians discovered cancer in part of his liver.

It also had to be removed.

Wally ended up having the right side of his liver removed as well as his gall

bladder. Part of his treatment included radiation and six months of

chemotherapy.

And although it was a tough battle, Wally has been cancer-free for a little

more than six years.

If you wait until you have a symptom, its probably too late, Peggy said.

He was just lucky.

He was the typical hard-headed man that did not think it was necessary to go

in for physicals, she said.

Dealing with the cancer has been an emotional journey for the VanWyk family.

When the cancer was detected, it was in a Stage 3, meaning it had spread to

other lymph nodes, and the family was not given a very good prognosis.

But Wally strongly believes that power of prayer helped him recover. It was

the prayers from not only his family and friends, but his own.

Every day in his hospital bed, Wally would recite Psalms 23:4, which says:

Even when walking through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for

you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.

To this day, he still becomes emotional when talking about his ordeal.

Peggy said she would never cry in front of her husband because she believed

she had to be strong for him. But when she was out on her own, it was a

different story.

When I would go out to H-E-B or Wal-Mart, buckets (of tears) would just

flow, she said. Its important to remember the caregivers.

In a recent Texas Poll, 70 percent of those polled said that they knew colon

cancer was preventable through screenings but only one in five knew that

screenings should begin at age 50, the American Cancer Society reported.

Statistics provided by ACS show that in 2002 an estimated 3,600 people in

Texas died as a result of colon and rectum cancer.

Dr. Desiree Pendergrass of the Texas Medical Foundation in Austin, said there

are two factors why people are not undergoing colon cancer screenings. She

said not enough general practitioners are recommending the screenings, and it

is not a procedure that people are willing to have.

Its not like getting blood drawn. Its not quick and easy, Pendergrass

said.

Dr. Peter Pendergrass, also of TMF, said the public might not know that early

detection of colon cancer can greatly increase a persons chance of survival.

Its not just having a test, its doing something that can make a difference

in the longevity of your life, he said. If your doctors not talking about

it, you need to go and talk to your doctor about it.

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