Ask Ken Gaddis about the collection of coffee mugs in his office and he'll tell you they each have a story. Most are mementos from his time in Colorado. Some are gifts from coworkers and others are souvenirs from traveling.
However, he’d much rather tell you about a different kind of trip, one to a doctor’s office for a long overdue colonoscopy. Gaddis says after he turned 50, the age experts recommend you begin colonoscopy screening, but he put it off. For more than a decade, he ignored the recommendations and his wife’s constant reminders. Finally, his wife made an appointment for him. Unable to refuse, he went through with the procedure.
"Wake up and there is the gastroenterologist and my wife standing over me with a very stern look," said Gaddis. "It’s at that point in time I knew my goose was really cooked."
The gastroenterologist found a 5-inch lesion and it was pre-cancerous. They caught it just in time. The lesson was especially hard to admit for Gaddis, because he is a physician himself. He’s a neurologist at Ochsner Medical Center in Baton Rouge.
"You would think that you know better, but you don’t. That’s a very difficult lesson for a physician to learn," Gaddis added.
However, it seemed Gaddis still had one more lesson to learn. After recovering from his procedure to remove the lesion, he waited only a few weeks to resume an aspirin regimen. That’s far sooner than recommended. Aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding and two days later, Gaddis suffered a hemorrhage in his colon that landed him in the ICU.
The doctor said he almost bled to death and, in fact, Gaddis said he saw that bright, white light often described by patients near death.
"It was totally quiet, totally peaceful. There was no fear with it. There was no noise. It was just, ‘Oh, that’s what this is really like.’ I got a message," Gaddis explained.
That message was to get your colonoscopy and to listen to your doctors and your wife.
"I have to be honest. My wife saved my life and without her, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve got to admit that I did something very wrong and I was very stupid,” said Gaddis.
He now takes every opportunity to encourage others to pay attention to their health and to get all recommended screenings.
Gaddis also noted that he did not have any signs or symptoms that something might be wrong and that’s often the case with colon or rectal cancer. Many times, when symptoms develop, the cancer has advanced and becomes harder to treat.
That’s why colonoscopies are considered the golden standard in colon cancer screening. Any potentially cancerous polyps or lesions can be removed before they grow into something worse.
Doctors say someone at average risk for colon cancer, for example, someone without a family history, should begin screening at age 50. If there is a family history, a doctor may recommend a colonoscopy sooner. Any unusual signs or symptoms, such as bleeding, blood in the stool, or abdominal pain should be discussed with your primary care doctor.
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