March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It may not be the most pleasant topic, but those screenings do save lives.
Just ask Wolcott resident Michael Mancini. Until a couple years ago, he was the picture of health.
“I was super fit and healthy. I worked out religiously, I even taught a group fitness class, “Mancini said. “I was at work one day, having lunch, and all of a sudden had sever abdominal cramping.“
He was only 42, so a couple doctors thought he was just constipated. Then he saw a gastroenterologist.
“The next day, I went in for an emergency colonoscopy,“ said Mancini. “They didn’t get very far. They hit the tumor.“
Three days later, he was in an operating room getting the tumor removed. It was malignant. He had stage 4 colon cancer. He went through 12 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Another tumor in his liver was removed last year. Now, he’s become an advocate for screenings.
“There’s 30 million people – over 30 million people – in this country between the ages of 50-75 who are eligible to get screened but just haven’t gone,“ Mancini said.
“That the rate of colon cancer is going down and the survival in colon cancer is improving, and we think a lot of that is due to colonoscopies,“ according to Dr. Jeremy Kortmansky, co-director of the Gastro-Intestinal Cancers program at Yale New Haven and Smilow Cancer Hospitals.
No, they are not pleasant. Nobody likes them, but doctors say there is just nothing better for finding colorectal cancers than colonoscopies.
“The gastroenterologists, who are the ones who do the procedures take good care,“ said Dr. Kortmansky. “They’ve made them a little bit less onerous, but the procedure itself is pretty straightforward.“
“People don’t want to talk about it. It’s a little embarrassing,“ said Mancini. “So we have to kind of get past that stigma and feel a little bit more comfortable talking about the topic because it’s really important that people get their screening.“
Fortunately, Mancini has good insurance. In fact, he works for an insurance company. But plenty of people do not have insurance, and yet they have all the same medical risks. That is why part of Mancini’s mission now is to try to get government funding.
He recently took his story to Washington, where he got his congresswoman to support $70 million for the CDC’s colorectal program.
“To provide opportunities for people in rural or lower income communities to get access to screenings, so we’re trying to fight for more of that type of funding,“ said Mancini.
According to the American Cancer Society, the warning signs of colorectal cancers include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
You can also help reduce the risk of getting cancer by eating right.
“A healthy diet, high in fruits and vegetables, low in fat, low in red meat, is very important,“ said Dr. Kortmansky
So is exercise. Mancini, the exercise expert, spreads his message using the hashtag #StrongArmSelfie. It’s about being strong enough to fight cancer both figuratively and literally.
“Because I was so healthy and fit, that definitely helped save my life,“ Mancini said. “I would not have been able to endure that aggressive chemotherapy had I not been so healthy and fit going into it.“
Now that fitness is helping him stay healthy and strong.