Valarie Everett | October 23, 2013
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” -Mahatma Gandhi
It’s almost 6 pm, which means I survived another Friday 4 o’clock client crisis. The week of juggling sales meetings, proposal deadlines, underwriting rate negotiations and planning my uncle’s surprise 80th birthday party had sucked the energy out of me. Just as I was packing up my office to head out the door, making sure I had everything needed for Monday’s big presentation with my largest customer, one more call came through, but this time I didn’t recognize the telephone number on the caller ID. “Your results are back from pathology. The tumor is malignant.” I really don’t remember too much else except that the doctor said that it wasn’t the usual colon cancer. “You have a Neuroendocrine Tumor [NET] that we thankfully picked up on your screening. It’s a slow growing tumor, but it’s a good thing you came in for your colonoscopy when you did, because by the time you had any symptoms, it would have been very difficult to treat.” We scheduled an office visit for Monday to discuss my course of action. I left the office that night and numbingly walked a couple of city blocks to the parking lot with one of my best friends, repeating in shock, “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.” My self-pity rant lasted about seven minutes and I sat in my car for a while being thankful for the incidental discovery and praying for the strength to deal.
Monday morning came quickly and I knew the day would be full of emotion with the follow-up GI appointment that afternoon. But first, I had to get through a Wellness presentation. For years as the Account Manager for a large group health insurer, I often encouraged preventative screenings as a means to keep employees healthy. This day’s message was going to be different. Too many times I had talked the talk – this time I was going to walk the walk. I had a personal testimony to share.
Later that day, the doctor gave my course of action – cancer surgery to remove the tumor. My NET, known as a carcinoid, formed from the endocrine system, and the tumor really could have landed anywhere in my body. Carcinoids usually appear in the small bowel, particularly the ileum, and the tumors are often asymptomatic, which was my case. Based on the size, he said that I probably had it for years. Fortunately, the carcinoid landed at the connection of the small intestine and the colon, so it was found at the conclusion of the screening. The doctor said, “You are my poster child for getting a colonoscopy at age 50.”
My next few weeks were filled with all kinds of tests – blood work, CT and radiology scans – and office visits with the oncology surgeon, and later an inpatient stay for the procedure to remove the tumor. Ultimately, my complicated recovery course, not related to the colonoscopy, resulted with an extended hospitalization which caused me to miss my oldest son’s high school graduation and the youngest son’s first concert performance. But the colonoscopy saved my life.
Since then, my mission is to spread the news. My family and friends now receive greeting cards for their 50th birthday with the reminder to schedule that screening. I’m known as the colonoscopy advocate and I love breaking down the preconceived barriers. My husband, a retired NFL football player who delayed screening for two years because of the imaginary thoughts of the difficult preparation and the expectation of bad news, had pre-cancerous polyps removed during his colonoscopy. He now joins me on the mission to campaign for getting a colonoscopy by sharing our story with his friends and former teammates.