Some of our biggest supporters here at Be Seen, Get Screened come from the brave group of people that have survived colon cancer themselves.
These voices in our community are some of our biggest supporters, so we wanted to return the favor by starting a new Q&A feature on our blog: Colon Cancer Survivor Spotlight. Who better to advocate for colon cancer screening than those who have taken on and beaten the disease for themselves?
If you'd like to be featured in a Colon Cancer Survivor Spotlight Q&A, contact us here.
The subject of our first Colon Cancer Survivor Spotlight Q&A is Paul Weigel, a stage III colon cancer survivor who hopes to complete Ironman Canada less than a year after beating the disease.
Be Seen, Get Screened: What is your personal experience with colon cancer?
Paul Weigel: I’ve had a very up-close and personal relationship with colon cancer after being diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer in March, 2013, when I was just 43 years old. My next year was a living hell, with 28 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, surgery to remove my tumor, and then another six months of chemotherapy. I’m delighted to say that I was declared cancer free in January 2014!
BSGS: How did colon cancer change you and your outlook on life?
PW: I learned that life is too short and that it’s important to get the most out of it as possible. Before being diagnosed, I spent too much time being focused on things that didn’t matter. Now I’m doing my best to embrace life every day. I’ve been given a second lease on life, and I’d hate not to use it to its fullest.
BSGS: What do you say to others who are hesitant to get screened?
PW: It may be a scary thing to get screened, but that pales in comparison to being told you have cancer. I learned I had cancer after having hip surgery. My primary care physician missed the diagnosis twice, even though I had symptoms for years, including significant blood in my stool.
Doctors found a lemon-sized tumor in my colon, determined that I was 99% blocked, and decided I needed to start treatment immediately. To be honest, I was lucky – in spite of finding the tumor, we determined I was only at stage 3 with the disease. It had spread to my lymph nodes, but not to my liver or lungs.
It’s likely that had I not been proactive and gone to a GI doctor to talk about my symptoms, my cancer would have likely progressed from Stage 3 to Stage 4, and my long-term prognosis would have been significantly different.
BSGS: What advice do you have for others who are battling colon cancer?
PW: Don’t let cancer beat you. I went into my battle with the disease with my fists raised. The first thing I did, once I knew my diagnosis and treatment plans, was do everything I could to keep a normal life. I kept a normal schedule at work (as much as I could, baring doctor appointments and treatment), and put my little girl to sleep every night.
I also never let go of hope – and a dream of life after cancer. For me, I could always close my eyes and imagine finishing an Ironman triathlon and picking up my daughter. I had finished an Ironman 5 years before learning I had cancer, which made the diagnosis even more surprising!
In fact, once I had surgery to remove my tumor, I made a point to be as active as possible, and actually finished a triathlon seven weeks later. During my remaining months of treatment, I did what I could to be active and forget about my cancer.
With my chemotherapy now complete, I have been able to dramatically increase my exercise, and I now plan to participate in Ironman Canada in July, just six months after completing my treatment! You can learn more about my Ironman challenge at www.cancerblinked.com, or on www.facebook.com/cancerblinked.
BSGS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about colon cancer or colon cancer screening?
I learned some very important things throughout my experience that I hope everyone takes to heart
- Don’t be afraid to have the rough conversations about your health. We all get used to our general aches and pains, but if something doesn’t feel right, make sure to talk with your doctor and don’t stop until you have all the answers. I had symptoms of my cancer for years, and should have pushed my doctor more to find out what was wrong. It almost cost me my life.
- If you’re over 50, get your regular colon cancer screening. Almost all colorectal cancer can be prevented just with that test.
- Dealing with cancer is not a death sentence. I’ve seen far too many other patients get suffocated by the fact that they have cancer. I chose to live – and thrive. There is life after cancer. A wonderful one.