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How Long Do We Put Important Things Off?
From Member John R. (Nick) Olenick

I retired from the Agency in late 1989 after 33 years of government service. For the next three years I worked part time as a cryptologic reservist at the National Cryptologic School. During the latter period, I recall an instance when a former member of B group, also working at the school, told me about his recent colonoscopy test and the results that indicated he must have surgery to remove polyps from his colon. He strongly urged me to have this same test to make sure I avoided any major problems such as colon cancer. Did I follow his suggestion? NO! Shortly after that incident, I heard about another Agency employee who had to have a portion of his colon removed because of colon cancer. He too recommended that I have a colonoscopy. Did I follow his recommendation? NO! I am afraid I like so many other people I felt that I could have this done later, even though I was past the age of 55. In addition, my wife normally had this test done once every two years as part of her normal checkups. Her doctor would talk to me about having the same test done when I took her in to see him. However, I kept putting it off until I almost reached the age of 70.

In November 2003, I had my first colonoscopy and the results indicated I had a growth in my colon. The next month I had surgery to remove a third of my colon and a biopsy indicated the growth and two of 26 lymph nodes located nearby were cancerous. Thus I had to undergo nine months of chemotherapy to try and kill any remaining cancer cells, which was interrupted by two hospital stays. The first of two weeks which resulted in surgery to remove adhesions from my lower bowel and the second of one week to clear up a colon infection. I lost over 35 pounds during the first hospital stay. It looks as though I have been very lucky after pushing my luck to the fullest. Yesterday, a follow-up Endorectal ultrasound test indicated that my colon is back to normal now with the exception of some surgical scars. The results of this test and previous tests, a PET scan and blood tests, suggest to my oncologist that I have been cured of cancer. I have an appointment to see him again in two months for a final assessment and follow-up testing.

Now what did putting off my first colonoscopy do for me? Not much for sure. It put me at greater risk, put me in the hospital for two surgeries, put me through many grueling weeks of chemotherapy, put my family thorough many months of worry, and needless to say many dollars of medical expenses. Was it really worth it? No! Fortunately, if all goes right, I will have only lost about a year out of my life instead of my whole life. With the Lords' help I will survive, but how close it could have gone the other way. I hope by writing this I can at least encourage one person to get a colonoscopy to prevent another cancer case. Believe me, itís not an easy journey. But the colonoscopy test itself is painless. So let me be the first to congratulate you on making an appointment to talk to your primary care physician about colon cancer prevention.

 

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