My late sister's mission: Ky. reversing poor record of colon cancer screening


by Joe Arnold

Posted on March 29, 2014 at 11:50 PM

Updated Sunday, Mar 30 at 12:00 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- It was an unconventional doctor-patient consultation before a medical procedure -- 27 year veteran Gastroenterologist Dr. Martin Mark and I checking my Twitter feed.
All part of an effort to continue to reverse Kentucky's record as one of the worst states for colon cancer deaths.
"The technology is changing," Mark said.  "We're understanding more and more how to do a better job."
And it's working. 
Over the last 15 years, the percentage of Kentuckians 50 and older who had ever been screened for colon cancer has doubled... now more than 60 percent. 
In almost every case, early diagnosis can lead to a complete cure.  A simple colonoscopy the best way to detect any polyps long before they endanger your life.
But some people are still reluctant to go through with what is basically a 24 hour investment in the rest of your life.  A clear liquid diet the day before, and then drinking a solution that clears your bowels the night before.  Mark prescribed a two-step bowel prep that involved me drinking the solution again about 3am.
My colonoscopy was on March 12, one day after the anniversary of the death of my sister, Maria Jung.  It was her mission that people get tested and avoid her ordeal.

Maria who did not recognize her symptoms soon enough.  She was diagnosed with advanced stage colorectal cancer in 2004 when she was 45 years old.  As she fought what she called "this hideous disease," she also fought for greater awareness. 
Both the tweeting of the procedure and the video in this story are part of that effort for greater awareness,  a special reminder during March, Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Mark explained the importance of a diligent bowel prep to give the medical team as clear a picture as possible, as well as the importance of a skilled and experienced team.
"We have lots of pairs of eyes watching the scope and they can be extremely helpful watching for things that can be very subtle," Mark said during the procedure.
Mark maneuvered 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.
Colonoscopies are recommended for everyone 50 and older and for those with higher risk factors.  Because of my family history, I was anxious to hear my results.
"We had a great look. Negative," Mark said as I awakened from anesthesia.  "We'll do it again in two years."

"No polyps?" I inquired, to make sure I understood his report.
"No polyps. No polyps," he said. "And I mean I had a great look."
If Mark had found any polyps, he would have removed them during the procedure. 
"What we'll do is put a snare around that and we'll actually burn the polyp off and it will look like that," Mark said, showing images of polyps from other patient's colonoscopies.

Colorectal cancer remains the second-leading cancer killer.  but cancers are getting caught.
"The trend is more people are getting screened.  We're seeing less colon cancer, and the mortality with colon cancer has shown is doing this," Mark said, gesturing with a downward slope.  "So we must be doing something right."

Though my colonoscopy was clear, I'll be back.
This story aired on Saturday, March 29th, which would have been my sister's 55th birthday.