When Arthur Smith turned 50 last year, he followed the recommended screening guidelines to get a colonoscopy, never suspecting there could be a problem.
“When you get a diagnosis of cancer, you’re frozen in time for a minute,” Smith said.
His diagnosis of stage 3 rectal cancer came just six months after his mother died from cancer. “It was a big smack in the face,” Smith said. As far as he knows, his family doesn’t have a history of colorectal cancer.
Looking back, he had some symptoms, but like people often do, attributed them to something else. There was a little blood in his stool, but he thought it might have been a hemorrhoid because he often has to pick up heavy items at work. The molds to make O rings can weigh anywhere from 25 to 100 pounds.
“I didn’t really think anything about it,” he said.
Then came his annual exam at 50 and the colonoscopy. When he got the call, that pause that comes with such a diagnosis lasted only briefly. Then, it was, “OK, what's the next step?”
“The truth is, my wife and I have four daughters and eight grandbabies,” he said. “I plan on being around for a long time, so what are we doing?”
The plan was to schedule a visit with Dr. Michael Horn at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center in Lexington. He was able to get a visit fairly quickly and the medical team developed an aggressive treatment plan.
“He said I had a good chance of surviving,” Smith said. “I really appreciated Dr. Horn’s candor.”
Dr. Horn stresses the success rates when cancer is found early.
"We know that finding precancerous or early stage cancers through colon cancer screening leads to vastly improved chances of cure,” he said. “Mr. Smith's story is just one example that proves this point."
The treatments, Smith was told, would leave him feeling bad, but in the long run would pay off. The side effects were rough, leaving him with a weakness and tingling in his fingers and toes. The worst part, he said, was that he couldn’t eat or drink anything cold. And, he had to drink water … a lot of water.
“I’m not a big water drinker,” he said. A friend recommended a type of flavored water that he was able to tolerate. “For me, that helped with my water consumption.”
During infusions, patients have enough time to talk with each other. When he talked with someone who also didn’t like to drink water, he had an idea. He and his wife purchased some of the gift packs and provided them to Hannah Newsome, the dietician at the cancer center, for patients who may have trouble drinking water.
“Even though they’re telling you, water, water, water, if you don’t like it, you’re not going to be able to choke it down,” he said. “This (the donation) is one way to pay it forward.”
Smith had a colon resection last December and is feeling better, though he’s still a little weak. “Now it’s just a matter of healing,” he said.
His advice about colonoscopies to the 50 and over crowd: “Just do it. To be honest with you, it’s hard to say how far I would have let this go, because nobody wants to do it,” he said. “If I had done it the year before, it may have never gotten to stage 3.”
While the recommended guidelines to start screening is age 50, Smith said if you have any symptoms, don’t discount them.
“Trust your body,” he said. “If something is not right, get it checked. You know your body better than anybody else. If something doesn’t feel right, look into it. I look at it this way, if your truck is sputtering and spinning, you take it to the mechanic. Your body is the same way.”