Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 15, 2012

Forum: Don't wait to get that colonoscopy

By Jim Harrelson
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---- — In March, Jasmine Greenamyer of the Colon Cancer Alliance wrote a Forum piece for the Record-Eagle. As a follow-up, I would like to provide a personal account to her important message.

While coaching at a track meet in May 2010, I used the restroom and realized something wasn't "right." The next day things seemed back to normal.

Two weeks later I had my annual physical. I had a colonoscopy less than three years before and had more than two years before I was due for another, but I thought I'd better advise my doctor what I experienced. A referral was made for a colonoscopy. On July 20 I found out I had rectal/colon cancer. Thus, the beginning of a year-long adventure that affected not only myself, but many others.

In August, an infusion port was put in my chest for chemotherapy. Exams and procedures were ongoing to determine the size and extent of the tumor. Once this was accomplished, a treatment plan was put in place with my surgeon, oncologist and radiologist.

In September six weeks of daily radiation started, the goal being to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery, hoping more of my rectum could be saved and avoid a permanent ileostomy. Chemotherapy also started at the same time for six weeks. Every Tuesday a portable tube was attached to my port that would deliver chemo 24/7.

Following a short "down time" after radiation and chemo, I had my surgery on Nov. 9. Most of my rectum and a portion of my colon was removed, but with the radiation, my ileostomy was temporary. On Jan. 4, 2011, I had my reversal surgery. On Jan. 24, I started six months of chemo, 31/2 hours every other Monday and 46 hours of a portable that was taken off the following Wednesday. My last chemo treatment was in July 2011.

I made it through the 2011 track season without missing a practice or meet and have done so again this season. This wasn't done because I'm someone special, it was a result of the wonderful care I received from all the doctors, nurses, hospital (all local, I might add) as well as the support of my family and friends.

I shudder to think where I might be if I hadn't reacted to that one-time warning sign. I remember thinking while in the office for that physical, "I had a colonoscopy less than three years ago, it's probably nothing." I was ready to walk out without saying a word.

Why didn't I? Maybe it was my 6-month-old granddaughter telling me she wanted me around for a while.

I am aware of people who know the risk they are taking and still won't have a colonoscopy. My goal in writing this is that someone hears the message and reacts. Don't wait until it's too late. I didn't, and I now spend a lot of time with my now 2½-year-old granddaughter.

About the author: Jim Harrelson is retired from a career in the insurance industry. He has been a coach for various sports in Suttons Bay for over 20 years. He presently game manages fall and winter athletic events and is an assistant varsity track coach in the spring. In the summer he has worked for the Traverse City Beach Bums since their inaugural season of 2006.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.