As a nurse in the oncology unit at Saint Anthony Memorial in Michigan City, Roxy Karnes talks with cancer patients everyday. But Karnes is dreading the phone call she’s about to make.
"I'm going to call my brother, Randy," Karnes says. "About two weeks ago, I went and had a colonoscopy because it was time again and they removed a polyp. And then four days later I get a phone call from my sister, crying, that my 50-year-old brother has colon cancer."
Colon cancer is the third deadliest form of cancer. More than 100,000 people were diagnosed last year in the United States. But colon cancer is one of the most preventable kinds of cancer, first and foremost, with a colonoscopy.
"It's a life-saving procedure," Karnes says. "If you can remove the polyp, you can reduce your chances of getting colon cancer tremendously."
Colon cancer has personally touched Karnes’ life for years. In addition to her brother’s recent diagnosis, her mother passed away from the illness. Karnes’ significant other was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 42-years-old. That’s why Karnes stays diligent about getting colonoscopies, even if they aren’t the most pleasant experiences. She says getting colon cancer and going through chemotherapy are much more unpleasant.
"I describe it as a bomb going off in their life,” Karnes shares. “You have this path. You think you're going to do something a certain way in your life and then it stops. And then you have to develop a new path."
Karnes says you should start getting colonoscopies when you’re 50-years-old. If you have a family history, start even earlier. Karnes says you should have your first screening ten years before the youngest member in your family was diagnosed. So if you have a relative who got colon cancer when he was 45-years-old, you should be tested at 35.
Karnes says healthy eating habits and exercise will also help maintain a functioning colon. Fiber and folic acid are good to include in your diet. Obesity can drastically increase your chances for getting colon cancer.
"Thirty-percent of cancers are caused by nutrition and exercise, or lack there of," says Karnes, before climbing onto the elliptical machine in the hospital.
Here are a few warning signs that may indicate you have colon cancer. But keep in mind, these symptoms could mean many things, colon cancer being only one of them.
-Change in your bowel movement
-Blood in your stool
-Losing weight for no reason
-Severe stomach pain
-Constantly tired and weak
Colon cancer is preventable and treatable, if caught early. The American Cancer Society reports that about 75% of patients with stage one colon cancer will live more than five years. Once the illness spreads to stage four, only 6% of people will live that long.