It was a milestone birthday for Wade Cole. He had just turned 50 and told his wife he needed to get a colonoscopy. At the time, the American Cancer Society recommended 50 as the first age to be screened but has since lowered that age to 45.
“I did not have any symptoms,” Cole said. “I just knew it was part of life when you hit that age. I scheduled the colonoscopy and showed up expecting to get a clear result. I was eating crackers and drinking Sprite after the procedure when the doctor came in. He pulled the curtain back and said ‘Wade, you have cancer.’”
Cole says he did not hear anything the doctor said after those initial words.
“I’m glad my wife was there, because I was in an instant fog,” he said. “My daughter was graduating high school three weeks later so I asked if I could have my surgery after that. We decided not to tell either of my daughters until they had completed finals and one had graduated.”
Three weeks later, after his daughter’s graduation, Cole went in for surgery. The cancer had gone from stage one to stage three.
“It had gone through the wall of my colon and into my lymph nodes,” he said. “They took out part of my colon along with the lymph nodes. I then had an ileostomy bag to allow my colon time to heal.”
Several surgeries followed, along with six months of chemotherapy which ended in 2017.
Today, Cole follows up with regular body scans and blood work and has now been cancer-free for three years.
“Had I not gone in for my colonoscopy I would not be here today,” Cole added. “I would not have been there for both of my daughter’s graduation from college and my new grandbaby, Jude. I am very thankful for the American Cancer Society for encouraging people to get colonoscopies. I was one of those with no symptoms, but I still had cancer.”
These days Cole regularly returns to the same unit where he had chemotherapy, but this time he is not a patient.
“I go back twice a month and do what I can to help those who worked so hard to bring me through this ordeal,” he said. “I may clean a room to give the nurses some free time or talk to a patient who is beginning chemo to let them know that if I can do it, they can do it. Either way, I have been blessed beyond measure and pray the same for all those who are fighting cancer.”
American Cancer Society statistics show an estimated 20,530 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in Oklahoma this year, with an estimated 8,400 deaths.
“Since colonoscopy was approved in 2001, the incidence of colon cancer has dropped significantly,” said Arun Sachdev, MD, a Gastroenterologist with Integris in Oklahoma City. “Unfortunately, recent studies have shown a significant rise of the cancer in younger people. Approximately 15% of the cancer now occurs in those under 50 years of age. This finding led the American Cancer Society in 2018 to change their recommendation to start colon cancer screenings at age 45.”
Most cancers start as precancerous polyps that can be easily and painlessly removed at the time of a colonoscopy, Sachdev said.
“The earlier a polyp is found, the better,” he added. “If you are not having symptoms, you should start colon cancer screening between age 45-50 depending on your insurance coverage. If you are having symptoms, such as a change in bowel habits or blood in your stool, then get checked. If you have a family member who has had colon cancer, then get checked 10 years prior to the age they were when diagnosed. Please talk with your physician or our office if you have any questions.”