Brian Olson died in 1999 from colorectal cancer at age 39, leaving behind a heartbroken wife and two young sons, according to a release I received from St. Luke’s.
This kind of story hits close to home, as I was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was just 33. Had it not been caught when it was caught, I likely would have been just like Brian, leaving behind a grieving wife and two young sons.
I was incredibly lucky. At 33, I was a relatively healthy young man. I had no symptoms whatsoever. I was simply changing doctors, and for whatever reason, my new doctor — Ernest T. Anderson, in Rochester, New York — ordered a battery of tests, including a host of blood tests and something that I thought very odd at the time: a stool sample.
It’s something you do at home, and I almost threw the test away when I got home. It was gross and overkill, I thought at the time.
But I had a 2-year-old son, and my wife and I were preparing to try for another child. So I figured, what the heck, let’s go for broke here, and get a completely, no-questions-asked clean bill of health, top to bottom, so to speak.
After I did the test, I got a call from Dr. Anderson directly. He said there were microscopic traces of blood in my stool, and he ordered a sigmoidoscopy, a flexible tube with a camera that examines the first 12 inches or so of the colon. Again, I thought, give me a break. This is overkill. I probably had taken some Advil or something and that caused the microscopic traces of blood.
But, I did the sigmoidoscopy, and it found a polyp. So the doctor ordered a colonoscopy, which is done under sedation and examines the entire colon. During the colonoscopy, they can also remove the polyp. So, I figured, go in, get the polyp out and be on my merry way.
During the colonoscopy, they found another polyp, removed both and then, about halfway in, the doctor found an ugly, angry, quarter-size lesion, which turned out to be cancer.
A couple of frantic and nervous weeks later, I had surgery to remove it. It was Stage 1, and, once it was removed, I was declared as cancer-free as I could be.
Five days after my surgery, my wife had an ultrasound to confirm that she was pregnant with who would become our second son, Robert.
On Friday, I went in for my five-year sigmoidoscopy, which by now is a pretty routine procedure for me, about on par with a dentist’s appointment. My excellent doctor, Phil Jensen of Idaho Gastroenterology Associates, found a small polyp, which he removed and has sent off for biopsy. Again, if I had blown off the sigmoidoscopy, I probably wouldn’t have known about it until I started having symptoms, and by then, it probably would be too late.
Like Brian Olson.
After Brian died, his colleagues at Hewlett-Packard got together and started the Brian Olson Memorial Classic Golf Tournament, which is scheduled for June 1 this year and is now in its 18th year at Banbury Golf Club in Eagle.
Their goal is to spread the word about the importance of early detection of colon cancer.
The tournament has since raised $437,000 for St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute, according to St. Luke’s.
So here’s my small part in trying to help raise awareness. I know that had it not been for the incomprehensibly lucky series of events for me, I would have been just like Brian Olson.
But you don’t need to be lucky like me. You can read this column and go do something about it. Even if you have no symptoms, like I had no symptoms, get tested, talk to your doctor, schedule a stool sample, schedule a sigmoidoscopy or even a colonoscopy.
More information on colon cancer screening can be found by clicking on “Cancer Care at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute” at www.stlukesonline.org/health-services/service-groups.
More information on the Brian Olson Memorial Golf Classic can be found at www.brianolsonmemorial.com.