Colorectal cancer survivor: Don’t put off your colonoscopy
Kellie Bramlet Blackburn
Last updated Oct. 4, 2021
Warren Bright made sure to get his physical every year. But he put off getting a colonoscopy until he was 63 when his wife scheduled an appointment for him.
Men and women at average risk for colorectal cancer should receive a screening colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 45.
For Warren, the colonoscopy itself was little more than an inconvenience – a day of preparation followed by a procedure performed while he was sedated. But the results were life-changing. When he awoke from the sedation, a nurse handed Warren a stack of papers and told him the doctor wanted to discuss his results. It was likely Warren had colorectal cancer.
Warren was surprised. He hadn’t experienced any colorectal cancer symptoms and did not have a family history of the disease. But having lost a son to glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, more than a decade earlier, he knew that cancer didn’t discriminate.
A biopsy confirmed Warren’s diagnosis. From his family's experience, Warren knew that MD Anderson was the best place to receive cancer treatment, so he quickly scheduled an appointment.
Finding compassion and colorectal cancer expertise at MD Anderson
In January 2015, less than a month after his colonoscopy, Warren came to MD Anderson for his first appointment with his care team, led by colorectal cancer surgeon George Chang, M.D. His first appointment started at 7 a.m., and he didn’t leave until late that evening.
“It was a long day, but Dr. Chang wanted to get things moving quickly, and I agreed with him,” he says.
Throughout the day, Warren was struck by the expertise, confidence and compassion of everyone he met. Before heading home for the day, one employee even walked Warren to a late evening MRI so he wouldn’t get lost. When his MRI was complete, the employee, who had been waiting for Warren, walked him to the parking garage.
“From the first day there have always been people going out of our way to help us and make us comfortable,” he says.
Choosing colorectal cancer treatment and close monitoring
Originally, Chang planned on performing an aggressive surgery that would almost guarantee no chance of recurrence but would require Warren to use a colostomy bag to collect his stool.
Warren was hesitant about this permanent change. He did some research and found a new type of treatment that was being studied at other hospitals and shared this information with Chang.
Chang was hesitant, but he wanted to take Warren’s wishes into consideration. He began performing additional research and consulting with his colleagues. Over the next three days, Chang and Warren spoke on the phone frequently to discuss the pros and cons of the treatment. Eventually, they agreed on Warren’s treatment plan: one month of chemoradiation with capecitabine, then surgery, followed by eight rounds of the chemotherapy drug Folfox, with scans every three months over the next five years. He would not need a colostomy bag.
“This was a win-win for me,” Warren says. “I was happy to come back that often because I knew they would catch anything if I had a recurrence.”
During his chemotherapy, Warren was able to continue working and suffered few side effects, though he did experience some neuropathy, or numbness, in his feet.
His tumor had shrunk throughout his chemoradiation treatment, and the surgical biopsy performed in May 2015 – just five months after Warren’s initial diagnosis – confirmed there was no evidence of the tumor. A year later, in May 2016, Warren’s scans showed a recurrence, but thanks to the frequent scans it was caught early. Chang performed surgery to remove that tumor in June 2016. Warren has been in complete remission ever since then.
Colorectal cancer was just a hurdle on the road to happiness
Throughout his cancer treatment, Warren kept the attitude that while treatment would be a challenge, it was just a hurdle on the road to many happy years ahead.
“I told my wife after my diagnosis, ‘It’s not going to be a good year for us, but after that things are going to be OK,’” he says. “I’m living proof of that now.”
Warren remains grateful that his cancer was caught when it was and frequently reminds others to get their colonoscopies as scheduled. He says, “I can’t imagine what would have happened if my wife hadn’t scheduled my colonoscopy.”