People everywhere seem to be enjoying this year’s warm weather.
No one more so than Laurinburg’s Guy McCook.
As a colon cancer survivor McCook celebrates not just the arrival of summer, but each and every day. He’s beaten the cancer that once threatened to cut short his life.
McCook credits the medical providers involved in his care – Drs. Brad Faulkenberry, Brian Parkes, Steve Lanuti, Kelvin Raybon, Chip Helms, and John Atkins.
McCook followed the recommended guidelines and had a screening colonoscopy shortly after turning age 50. Everything was fine. But two years later, he experienced persistent abdominal and back pain. Thinking it was nothing serious, McCook, a Scotland County commissioner, made a visit to his primary care physician.
“Dr. Faulkenberry recommended some tests, including another colonoscopy,” he said. “Totally to my surprise I had a very large tumor in my colon. I had no family history of colon cancer, I was reasonably healthy, and had healthy eating habits. The diagnosis was unexpected.”
The two-year time period between McCook’s first and second colonoscopies indicated that he had an aggressive, fast growing cancer.
“Many people shy away from the topic or are afraid of a colonoscopy,” said general surgeon Dr. Brian Parkes. “We all think we’re invincible and that cancer can’t happen to us.”
Colon cancer remains the second deadliest cancer in the United States.
“Colon cancer is usually silent and doesn’t produce symptoms,” Parkes said. “Thankfully, in Guy’s case he did experience some pain and talked to his physician about it right away. However, not everyone with colon cancer experiences pain as an initial symptom.”
Drs. Parkes and Lanuti performed surgery to try to remove the cancerous growth.
“Due to the tumor’s size and the fact that it had broken through the wall of Guy’s colon and attached to his back muscles, Dr. Parkes and I decided to not remove it then,” said Lanuti. “We recommended trying to shrink the tumor with a three-month course of chemotherapy and radiation in order to make it easier to remove. Had we tried to remove it without shrinking it, Guy could have had long-term damage to the muscles and nerves in his back.”
Upon Dr. Parkes’ recommendation McCook traveled to Duke for the second surgery to remove the tumor.
“We usually do these surgeries laparoscopically here at Scotland Memorial but McCook’s tumor was large and the disease advanced,” said Parkes. “The Duke surgeon was in agreement that the tumor needed to be shrunk before trying to remove it.”
Road to recovery
“Once the tumor was removed at Duke I had the rest of my medical care back here in Laurinburg at Scotland Cancer Treatment Center,” McCook said. “Then I underwent another three-month course of chemotherapy. Thankfully, a follow-up colonoscopy showed that the cancer was gone.”
Dr. Lanuti said there’s no such thing as a normal cancer case.
We never know what the tumor will be like until we actually do surgery and get our hands on it. Each cancer case is unique.”
The surgeons at Scotland Surgical & GI say only about 60 percent of the people who should have a colonoscopy actually have one.
“Listen to your physician,” Parkes said. “We see about 30-40 colon cancer cases a year.”
The American Cancer Society recommends a screening colonoscopy at age 50, earlier if there’s a family history of colon cancer and for blacks and Native Americans, he said.
Most primary care physicians encourage their patients to have the recommended screening. If your physician forgets to schedule a screening colonoscopy when you turn 50, remind them.
“Sometimes things slip by but that’s why each person should be their own best advocate,” he said. “An individual should have a colonoscopy 10 years before the age of the family member who has had colon cancer. Because Guy was 52 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer, his children should have their first colon cancer screening in their early 40’s.”
When asked to sum up his cancer ordeal, McCook, encourages people to listen to their body.
“If you have pain of any kind, get it checked out. Go for the recommended screenings,” he said. “No one looks forward to a colonoscopy. But the truth of the matter is that it’s not a big deal. The procedure itself is nothing. You don’t even know it’s happened until it’s over. I’m living proof that it’s worth it. Do what your doctors tell you to do. I did and fortunately it turned out well for me. A lot of my good results were because I had good physicians who knew what they were doing, paid attention to me, and I listened to them. Trust the doctors.”
Dr. Kelvin Raybon, medical oncologist with Scotland Cancer Treatment Center, prescribed chemotherapy as part of McCook’s treatment.
“Guy is an excellent example of a patient who has gone through multi-disciplinary care. Meaning, to cure his cancer he needed a surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, drug treatment and radiation therapy,” he said. “All of these worked together in a very specific order of treatment in order to get rid of his cancer. Once we got rid of the tumor he received treatments to try to maximize the chance of curing the cancer for good. Surgery alone would not cure his cancer, chemotherapy alone would not, and radiation therapy would not. But the combination of all these did cure his cancer.”
Dr. Raybon stressed prevention.
“We can help to prevent cancer,” he said. “A healthy lifestyle decreases your chances of cancer, including colon cancer. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables every day should be the rule, not the exception. And, not just a couple of times a week, but several times a day. We should eat moderate amounts of meat and get plenty of good fiber. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising is very important. Together, all of these things can minimize your risk of developing cancer. A healthy lifestyle makes healthy people.”