Cool Guys Wear Gowns: Importance of early colon cancer detection

Cool Guys Wear Gowns: Importance of early colon cancer detection
Published: Jun. 15, 2018 at 6:49 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2018 at 6:51 PM EDT
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(WWBT) - June is Men's Health Awareness Month, and NBC12 is teaming up with Bon Secours to do a series of stories this month aimed at improving the health of our husbands, fathers and brothers.

Today's focus is on colon cancer and early detection.

Find out when you should go for colon cancer screening with this free assessment from the Bon Secours Men's Health page

"I thought I was invincible," Jim Gemmell said. "I'd go to the primary physician and I wouldn't share certain things, just to get in and get out."

During a candid conversation, Gemmell said he wasn't as diligent about his health as he should have been. He says by the time he finally got a colonoscopy, the news was not good.

"I'm a testament of what happens when you don't do it, and like I said, I have regrets," Gemmell said.

Last year, he started having intense stomach pains. He had experienced discomfort before, but this pain was so intense he went to his doctor, who suggested a colonoscopy.

Then came the diagnosis.

"In September of last year, three weeks before my daughter's wedding, I was informed that I had stage three colon cancer," Gemmell said. "A 14-centimeter tumor, so it was very progressive."

Soon he began a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, leading up to surgery in February.  Now he's in the middle of a series of post-surgery chemo treatments.

"I definitely believe if the detection was earlier, the treatment wouldn't have been as intense, and the surgery wouldn't have been as invasive as it was if I would've had early detection and not procrastinated," Gemmell said.

Dr. Michael White is the oncologist who performed Gemmell's surgery.

"We often think of colon cancer in the medical community as a preventable disease," Dr. White said.

He says a colonoscopy, which screens for polyps and early cancer symptoms, is an extremely important method of prevention. It's why just weeks ago, the American Cancer Society reduced the suggested age to start having colonoscopies from 50 to 45 years old.

"The longer you wait, the potentially more difficult it is to treat the problem down the road," Dr. White said.

The disease can be elusive, but Dr. White says there are some symptoms that colorectal cancer patients tend to experience.

"Noticing blood in your stools, difficulty passing your stools, change in caliber to a narrower, thinner stool, abdominal pain that won't go away, or you're having difficulty passing your bowels and have bloating, nausea, vomiting, things like that," Dr. White said.

These symptoms may not surface until the cancer has grown - another reason to get screened.

"That was the most easy part, because they put you to sleep, you wake up, you're done," Gemmell said.

Much easier, Gemmell says, than what he's going through.

"You don't get used to it. It's's difficult," Gemmell said. " Just get her done. That's my biggest advice to anyone out there. As early as possible, whenever your physician recommends it, get it done."

More Men's Health Awareness week stories:

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