LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- About 5pm Tuesday, when I would normally be on the air reporting on politics, I will instead be live tweeting an even more sensitive process as I prepare for a Wednesday morning colonoscopy.
Live Twittercasts both Tuesday night and during my colonoscopy itself 9am Wednesday are part of a promise I made to myself as an expression of my sister Maria's desire that her colorectal cancer experience be used to help prevent other people from enduring the suffering she experienced.
Live Tweets: information, photos and video
March 11, 2014 5pm-9pm
March 12, 2014, 8am-10:30am (approx)
Martin Mark, M.D., Norton Gastroenterology Consultants
Norton Suburban Hospital.
@Norton_Health or #nortonORLive
Here's the maddening irony. In almost every case, early diagnosis of colorectal cancer can lead to a complete cure. Yet, colorectal cancer remains the second-leading cancer killer.
A simple colonoscopy is the best way to detect any polyps in the colon long before they endanger your life.
My sister did not recognize her symptoms soon enough. She was diagnosed with advanced stage colorectal cancer in 2004 when she was 45 years old.
The next year was absolute hell for her. Radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries sapped Maria of all but her last ounce of energy and nearly all of her resolve. Yet, with the help of caring doctors and a dedicated family, Maria not only survived this death blow, she lived to see her dreams come true. The marriages of her three children and the birth of her first grandchild.
With her marketing expert husband, Wayne, at her side, Maria worked to raise awareness of colon cancer through charity walks, speaking appearances and personal interventions. Their "Uncorking a Cure" initiative and "Undy 5000" event in Cincinnati also raised money for screening and research.
In the weeks and months preceding Maria's death on March 11, 2013, she reiterated her dedication to help prevent others the same fate from what she once called "this hideous disease."
One week before her death, as Wayne appeared with one of Maria's doctors to mark colon cancer awareness month on the noon news of a Cincinnati television station, I watched the broadcast at her bedside in their home. As I told her how proud I was of her that she was willing to use her story to help other people, Maria nodded in agreement as a tear rolled down her cheek.
This was her hallmark, caring for others with simple acts of kindness: a plate of brownies, a vase of flowers, a greeting card "just because."
As an otherwise itinerant rookie broadcaster, Maria and her family had welcomed me to Louisville as only a big sister could. She even did my laundry.
Our family's story has been marked by other tragedies in the last few years, the sudden death of my brother and our mother's death from brain cancer. Maria deeply grieved for them and especially the loss of the companionship and support of our mother, whose balance of grit and compassion had helped Maria navigate her cancer journey.
Maria's extraordinary pain, discomfort and anxiety came to a peaceful end with her children and husband at her side. Her second grandchild was born five months later.
At her funeral, her son, Chris, revealed that the recipient of Maria's efforts, the Colon Cancer Alliance in the Cincinnati area, had just experienced its first "save." A person who underwent a colonoscopy with the help of the organization had been diagnosed early enough to achieve a complete recovery.
This was her dream, one that her family continues.
I've gotten a few strange looks from colleagues and the public when they hear of our live Tweeting plans, a collaboration between Norton Healthcare and WHAS11 to demystify the procedure, educate the public and save lives.
If it means shedding a bit of my privacy, so be it. On Tuesday night, to prepare my colon for clear images the following day, I will drink a solution that basically works the next few hours to empty my bowels. It's not a necessarily pleasant experience, but it's one night. I'll watch television or work on my computer and make sure neither of my young sons occupy the nearest bathroom in case I need to make a quick dash.
On Wednesday morning, I will go under a general anesthesia for the procedure. Martin Mark, M.D. of Norton Gastroenterology Consultants will use a thin, flexible tube with a small video camera on its end to examine my colon and - if necessary - remove any polyps or abnormal growths.
Shortly after the scope is complete, Dr. Mark will let me know how it went and whether any follow-up is necessary.
It's not embarrassing or painful. It's a medical procedure often 100 percent covered by health insurance. It just makes sense for anyone 50 or older and anyone whose risk factors call for it earlier (see below).
Kentucky's relatively high incidence of colorectal cancer and low screening rates are the target of Dr. Whitney Jones and the Colon Cancer Prevention Project, an organization I am also proud to support. State government is now providing funding for the Kentucky Colon Cancer Screening Program, which helps low-income, uninsured residents get screenings.
I think Maria would be proud as we perpetuate her legacy. Do your own family and your latent anxieties a favor and schedule your colonoscopy, today.
Information from Norton Healthcare
Cancers of the colon and rectum - also known as colorectal cancers - are common, affecting both men and women and are most often found in people over age 50.
• Risk factors
• Hereditary colorectal cancer
• Signs and symptoms
According to the American Cancer Society it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for polyps to develop into colorectal cancer. So regular screening may prevent colorectal cancer altogether. This is because most polyps can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also result in finding colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.
The most common risk factors for colon cancer are:
• Age - Although the disease can strike any age, most people who develop colorectal cancer are over age 50.
• Polyps - These noncancerous growths are common in people over age 50. Experts believe that cancer can develop from polyps, so removal may be a way to prevent colorectal cancer.
• Family history - Parents, siblings or children of a person who has had colorectal cancer are somewhat more likely to develop it, especially if the family member had the cancer before age 50.
• Personal history - Individuals with a personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease have a higher risk for developing colon cancer.
• Diet - Evidence suggests that high-fat, high-calorie, low-fiber diets play a part in development of the disease.
You may also be at risk if you:
• Don't get enough exercise
• Are overweight
• Smoke or are a heavy alcohol use
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of colorectal cancer are not always obvious and often are attributed to other causes, such as stress, overeating or indigestion. Left untreated, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. That's why routine screenings are crucial.
According to the National Cancer Institute, common signs of colorectal cancer include:
• A change in bowel habits
• Persistent diarrhea
• Constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
• Blood in the stool
• Stools that are more narrow than usual
• General abdominal discomfort, such as bloating, cramps or gas pains
• Unexplained weight loss
• Constant fatigue