Colon Cancer Patient Tells Others: "Don't Be Afraid, Just Get Checked"

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After Cheryle Rambo's sister died of colon cancer at a young age, Cheryle was told she had an increased risk of developing colon cancer and needed to get checked sooner and more often than someone without a family history of the disease.

She heard it all. But Cheryle listened to her fear instead, denying the possibilities and putting off her screenings month after month. By the time she got checked, there already was a large tumor blocking most of her colon.

Doctors were able to perform surgery before the cancer spread. After several months of chemotherapy, Cheryle's last colonoscopy was clear.

"I can't believe how close it came to being much more advanced," said Cheryle, who works as a nurse at The Nebraska Medical Center. "If I had waited another three months, this could have been a much different story."

April is National Cancer Control Month, a perfect time to remind everyone about the importance of yearly colon cancer testing, especially for people aged 50 years and older, said Jean Grem, M.D., an oncologist at The Nebraska Medical Center who specializes in treating colon cancer.

Nearly 60,000 Americans will die from colon cancer this year, but experts predict that about half of those lives could have been saved if everyone age 50 and older were tested for colon cancer. Unlike some cancers, colon cancer starts as a growth, called a polyp, which is not yet cancerous. Testing helps doctors find, and remove, these growths before they become cancerous. And even if the test finds that colon cancer has already developed, finding it early can lead to a much better chance of beating it. If caught in the early stages, colon cancer has a 90 percent survival rate after 5 years.

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Early stages of colon cancer often have no symptoms, that's why yearly tests are so important, said Dr. Grem.

In the summer of 2003, Cheryle Rambo remembers having some abdominal cramps and a few boughts with diarrhea. But it wasn't severe enough to call her doctor. She dismissed the symptoms, chalking them up to stomach flu. She didn't go for a colon cancer screening until January 2004, when her pregnant daughter gave her an ultimatum that Cheryle couldn't refuse, either get a colonoscopy or she'd have to wait until the baby was born to find out if it was a boy or a girl.

"I'm one of those people who can't wait for information like that," Cheryle said. "I had to know right away, so I made the appointment and went in for the test."

Now, Cheryle is glad that her daughter played hardball with her. That ultimatum may have saved her life. And she wants other people, especially women, to learn from her experience.

"I was afraid of what might happen if I got checked. But I should have been afraid of what might happen if I didn't get checked," Cheryle said. "My advice to others is: Don't be afraid. Just get checked."

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With a history dating back to 1869, The Nebraska Medical Center, known for excellence, innovation and quality patient care is listed as one of America's Top Hospitals by US NEWS

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