By Emily Williams
This month of March is dedicated to Colon Cancer Awareness, but survivor Dan Anderson finds time to share his story throughout the year.
His diagnosis came as quite a surprise, so he works to spread the word about colorectal cancer screenings to get more people to pay attention to their bodies’ inner workings.
Growing up in Homewood, Anderson started out with an active lifestyle and kept it up into adulthood.
“My whole family was active. My father used to be a professional baseball player. I played; my brothers played,” said Anderson, who went on to play on Samford University’s baseball team. “We were always doing something. Back then being active and playing outside was staying fit.”
Baseball took him through college, and as he started his career and a family, he and his wife settled in Vestavia Hills.
In the summer of 2007, a 44-year-old Anderson was generally feeling unwell, but juggling his job in commercial real estate and three kids at ages 11, 8 and 6 created enough diversions.
In July 2007, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. After being in severe pain throughout the night, Anderson stopped at an urgent care office. From there he found himself rushed into emergency surgery to remove a tumor that was creating a blockage in his colon.
“It was really a shock and everything happened so fast, so I really (didn’t) have time to process anything,” he said.
He was stuck in the hospital for a while, his stay prolonged when he suffered from a pulmonary embolism after surgery. To top it all off, when Anderson went in for his first round of chemotherapy, his body responded negatively, sending him back to the hospital bed.
Anderson was no stranger to the effects of cancer. His mother passed away at age 48 from breast cancer and her sisters suffered from the same cancer, as well. His mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor.
“I had a family history and I was aware of cancer, but just like anybody else, I didn’t think it could ever happen to me,” he said.
Looking back, Anderson said he could have listened to his body, but the idea of cancer was miles away from his mind. Just two weeks before the surgery, while they were on vacation at the beach, a family friend mentioned that Anderson wasn’t acting quite like his usual self.
“I was almost lucky that it caused a blockage, because the tumor had just broken through the wall of my colon, but it hadn’t gotten to the lymph node yet,” he said.
Not personally knowing anyone who had battled this type of cancer, Anderson said he was surprised when he learned how common colorectal cancers are.
Developing colon cancer at age 44, Anderson was a bit too young for the routine colonoscopy health professionals suggest for ages 50 and up. Nevertheless, he is a steadfast advocate of the procedure.
“Sure, I wish they would lower the age, but I realize that there are insurance policies involved,” he said. “That’s why I talk to people about it. One of the reasons my situation was such a surprise was because colon cancer was something that had never really been talked about.”
Colonoscopy is one of the most common screening methods for colorectal cancers, but it gets a bad rap because of the prescription liquids some patients have to consume the day before the procedure.
“It’s really not that bad,” Anderson said. “It’s mostly the prep that people find a bit scary, but that part really isn’t bad at all and the actual procedure is easy. They put you under, so you aren’t even awake for it. Then you go home and get some of the best sleep of your life.”
However intimidating the screen- ing may seem, it is one of the most reliable ways to catch colorectal cancers early on.
According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Statistics Center, colorectal cancers are the third most commonly diagnosed cancers. They also are among the most treatable cancers, if caught early. Despite having reliable screening methods, colorectal accounts for the second-highest number of cancer-related deaths, after lung and before bronchial cancers.
In an effort to reduce the number of deaths, the ACS introduced its new 80 by 18 campaign this month. Now, only 60 percent of colorectal cancer patients are diagnosed through a screening; the campaign seeks to raise that statistic to 80 percent.
Whenever Anderson encounters someone who has been putting off their first colonoscopy, he has no qualms about educating them. So, doing his part to support the ACS’s 80 by 18 campaign comes naturally.
“The more people talk about it and put it out there, the more people know how easy getting screened really is,” he said.
Shortly after his own battle, Anderson discovered that his siblings had been putting off screenings and his father, at age 80, hadn’t had a colonoscopy in his entire life.
“There is absolutely no reason not to get yourself checked out,” he said. “I’ll tell anybody to get screened.”
COLON ON THE GREEN
Events designed to spread awareness are popping up around town this month, kicked off on March 3 as UAB hosted its first Colon on the Green. Rumpshaker Inc. brought its 16-foot inflatable colon to help edu- cate the public.
The inflatable organ will make another appearance at the annual Rumpshaker 5K and one-mile fun run, March 25. The event will begin at 8 a.m. at Regions Field.
Since its inception in 2009, the race has raised nearly $1 million for the organization’s mission to spread colorectal cancer awareness, support patients and raise funds for research.
Registration for individual runners is $30 for the 5K and $20 for the fun run; for team members, the price per runner is $25 for the 5K and $18 for the fun run.
For more information, visit rumpshaker5k.com.