My Battle with Colon Cancer
Timing is everything. It’s a lesson Johnette and Jeffrey Powell learned the very hard way —and one they are anxious to pass on to others.
In 2010, the Powells packed up their lives and moved to Washington, D.C. It was a busy year and the-then 50-year-old Johnette was preoccupied with all the details of starting a new life in a new city. “I knew I needed to begin screening for colon cancer at 50—but in the transition from one place to the next, I delayed,” she explains. “It was a year later that I finally found a primary care doctor who sent me to Dr. Mitesh Patel at MedStar Washington Hospital Center for a colonoscopy. I was shocked to hear the results. More than one of the polyps he had removed was malignant. I had colon cancer.”
Surgery to resect a small section of her colon and remove nearby lymph nodes was quickly scheduled. “The cancer had spread beyond my colon,” Johnette explains. “So I spent the next six months receiving chemotherapy every other Friday.”
Today, nearly five years since her diagnosis, Johnette is a very proud and grateful colon cancer survivor. But she understands that any further delay in screening may have resulted in a far worse outcome—and with earlier screening, she may have been spared months of difficult treatment. Now the Powells are talking to everyone they know and telling them to “get checked,” says Jeffrey. It’s their battle cry and people are listening. “We both know all too well that screening saves lives,” he adds.
Screening for Prevention, Early Detection
In fact, screening colonoscopy can not only detect colon cancer early when it is more easily treated, it can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become malignant. Because risk increase with age, it’s recommended that men and women begin regular screening at age 50. However, for African-American men and women, the recommended age is 45. Some people may need to be screened earlier and more often because they have a higher risk for the disease.
You might be at an increased risk for colon cancer if you:
• Are African-American
• Smoke or use tobacco
• Are overweight or obese
• Are not physically active
• Drink alcohol in excess
• Eat a lot of red meat or processed meat
• Have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
• Have a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risks
In addition to regular screening, making some lifestyle changes can reduce risk of colon cancer—and other cancers as well.
• Maintain a healthy weight and waist size throughout life.
• Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
• Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
• Limit the amount of red meat and processed meat you eat, including pork.
• If you drink alcohol, limit the amount to one drink per day for women, two per day for men.
• Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
While you’re learning to live a healthier life, take time to learn all you can about your family’s medical history. It wasn’t until after she was diagnosed that Johnette discovered her great aunt had had colon cancer. While a single relative may not be meaningful, it’s important to do your homework to determine your own level of risk for the disease. Then talk to your physician about what you’ve discovered and about when you should begin screening.
Learn more about Johnette's story below.