The four-letter word we shouldn’t be afraid to say

The lesson Dianne Peters takes to heart and is working to share with others

Many of us who are lucky enough to share our lives with little ones — our own or those of family and friends — may be familiar with the children’s book, “Everyone Poops.” This popular little tome reminds those of all ages that there is no reason to be embarrassed to talk about such a vital function, especially when it could save your life.

This is a lesson Dianne Peters takes to heart and is working to share with others. As a colon cancer survivor, Dianne is on a mission to promote early colon cancer screening. She knows the message is critical for those who share two elements of her demographic: above age 50 and African American.

“I decided to share my story because I love people and if I can help save at least one life, I know it will be worth all that I have gone through,” Peters said.

When I recently met Dianne for coffee, she was looking sharp in a snappy red and black outfit set off by red suede boots. I knew immediately I would like this bright, well-spoken woman with a radiant smile who is not the least bit shy to tell it like it is.

“Listen, we’ve got to get over this idea so many of us grew up with that it’s too embarrassing to talk with your own family, or even your own doctor about things that could save your life,” said Dianne.

Dianne’s story starts in 2005, when her older brother had colon polyps removed. This prompted her sister, Marilyn, to get a colonoscopy (and thankfully a clean bill of health). Marilyn tried to convince Dianne, then age 50, to get screened too, but Dianne would have none of it.

“I remember as if it was yesterday how Marilyn urged me to get a colonoscopy, but I was a workoholic and didn’t want to take time off work. I didn’t want to go through the preparation,” said Dianne.

Three years later, Dianne found herself waking up to some devastating news after surgery for what she thought was appendicitis. Polyps in her colon had become cancerous and penetrated her colon wall. After numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and several hospitalizations, Dianne counts herself “truly blessed to be alive.”

Dianne’s experience reminds us that awareness and early detection are powerful weapons against cancer. We know the wallop this one-two punch carries because we’ve seen it work against breast cancer.

I’m giving away my age, but I remember what a big deal it was when First Lady Betty Ford announced she had breast cancer. We’ve come a long way from those days when public talk about breast cancer was taboo. Increased awareness (yes, those pink ribbons are everywhere), effective screening via breast self-exams and mammograms, new treatments and ongoing research have all helped lead to a steady decline since 1989 in breast cancer deaths.

There’s no reason this same approach can’t work just as well against colon cancer. Don’t get me wrong — we’re making progress, just not enough of it and not fast enough. Consider how dramatically things would change if we could think of the natural, life-sustaining business of what our colons do not as “yuck” but as “wow!”

Colorectal cancer is highly preventable, but it is also the second-leading cancer killer. The National Cancer Institute says nearly 50,000 people in the United States will die this year from colorectal cancer. African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States.

We can change this. Nearly all cases that are diagnosed early can lead to a complete cure. Most colon cancers begin as benign polyps, which slowly develop into cancer. The best way to detect polyps in their earliest and most treatable stage is through a colonoscopy.

Other screening options also are available. Norton Healthcare is the first in our area to offer Cologuard, a new FDA-approved at-home screening test for colon cancer. You need a doctor’s prescription for this noninvasive test, and you must be over age 50 with average colon cancer risk (no history of polyps and no family history of cancer). The test may not pick up the presence of some polyps, and you would still need a colonoscopy if you get a positive result, but it’s good to know what your options are.

So, as we come full circle, what is the real four-letter word we absolutely, positively must not ever be afraid to say? Life. I think my new friend and inspiration Dianne Peters said it best: “Please remember my story and put your life first.”

To schedule an appointment with a gastroenterology physician, or to find a Norton Healthcare provider who offers Cologuard, call (502) 629-1234.

Learn your risk for colon cancer

Take our free online colon cancer risk assessment to find out your colon cancer risk. If you take the assessment during March, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a $500 Target gift card


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