By Anne Ruisi
If he’d had a colonoscopy earlier, Jamey Hollingsworth might not have died of colon cancer in his Mountain Brook home, he, his family and friends said.
One of his brothers died from colon cancer and polyps were removed from two other brothers when they were first screened, his wife of 21 years, Dany Hollingsworth, said.
“Jamey missed the notice to get screened,” she said, adding that when he finally did get a colonoscopy, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had extensively metastasized to his liver.
The 51-year-old husband and father of two, who died July 19, wanted to leave a legacy to promote colon cancer awareness and strongly encourage people to get screened. The Hollingsworth Colorectal Awareness Foundation, under the umbrella of the Robert E. Reed Gastrointestinal Oncology Research Foundation in Birmingham, will do that.
“It’s Jamey’s mission. He wanted to get the word out,” that the average person should get their first colonoscopy screening at age 45, according to the American Cancer Society’s new guidelines, said Knight Sauls, a longtime friend of Jamey’s who attended Sewanee, the University of the South, with him.
“The idea is to not let this happen to someone else,” Dany said.
Jamey didn’t have colon cancer symptoms that he recognized, although he was going to the bathroom with more frequency and had stomach trouble, Dany said. He thought it was all associated with his soon turning 50. And as this started during the COVID-19 pandemic, he wasn’t going to the doctor for his annual exam.
“We never thought it would happen to him,” she said, noting he was a runner and ate healthy.
It wasn’t until a Father’s Day dinner last year left Dany and Jamey with severe upset stomachs after eating undercooked lobster that he decided to get screened. He had to wait several months for an appointment and had the procedure that fall. On Sept. 17, the couple received the devastating test results.
“We were told in September he had one year to live,” Dany said.
An aggressive chemotherapy campaign was launched, but doctors discovered Jamey had a form of colon cancer resistant to chemotherapy.
“It’s awful,” Dany said a few days before Jamey died. “I’m losing my husband, the love of my life and my very best friend.”
Using His Last Days in Service of the Cause
As Jamey’s illness progressed, he wrote a mission proposal for a foundation to encourage colon cancer screening, especially focusing on the new baseline of 45 as the age when most people should get their first colonoscopy, Sauls said.
But people might be reluctant to get a colonoscopy because the day before the procedure, they have to take laxatives to clear the colon. Dany urged them not to let that deter them.
“The prep is no fun, but they put you to sleep” for the actual colonoscopy, she said.
Jamey’s openness that earlier screening probably would have saved his life is the lesson he wanted to share, his wife and friends said.
Sauls said she recently had colon resection surgery following a colonoscopy that discovered a cancerous polyp. She hadn’t had any signs of cancer.
“I’m 2½ weeks out (from the surgery) and there is no residual cancer. It didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “We are poster children for how important this is. This major push is in Jamey’s honor.”
Charles Robinson, another longtime friend who’s known Jamey since they were in junior high school and who is involved in the foundation, said he also personally knows how important screening is. At his first colonoscopy two years ago at age 50, a polyp that could be the type that becomes cancer was removed. He has since been told to get screened every three years.
While Jamey’s cancer is not genetic, the couple’s daughters, Halli, 17, and Heidi, 14, will get their first colonoscopies at age 38, because a risk factor remains for them, Dany said.
That Jamey wanted to help others avoid his fate is a testament to the kind, thoughtful person that he is, Robinson said the week before his death. “He is a real kind soul.”
His family coped with Jamey’s deteriorating condition day by day as he went in and out of lucidity, Dany said. Their church family at Independent Presbyterian has been very supportive, and their faith in God carries them.
“We didn’t get the miracle we wanted, but He’s been walking by our side,” Dany said.
For more information on colon cancer, go to reedgifoundation.com. To donate to the Hollingsworth Colorectal Cancer Awareness Fund, click on the link on that page to the Hollingsworth CRC Fund.