Actor’s death raises awareness for colon cancer; survivor shares her experience

Published: August 31, 2020 6:27 PM EDT
Updated: September 1, 2020 1:01 AM EDT

Actor Chadwick Boseman recently died of colon cancer at the age of 43. He was known for portraying a number of legendary heroes in film who were both non-fictional and fictional. And Boseman died a hero himself.

We look at how Boseman’s death is now raising awareness for colon cancer. We also spoke to a colon cancer survivor Monday about what she experienced.

Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, doctors recommended Sheila LaDow in Indian River County get a colonoscopy every three years. But at 42 years old, she didn’t take it too seriously.

“I was scheduled to have it over the summer of 2019, so I skipped it for a couple of months,” LaDow said.

When LaDow finally went, they found cancer. Now, after surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy, she’s cancer-free. But not everyone diagnosed with colon cancer is as fortunate.

Boseman died after four years of treatment for colon cancer.

LaDow says she hopes something good can come from an otherwise tragic event.

“With him being 43 years old, which is the exact age I am now, it should raise awareness,” LaDow said. “And I hope that it does.”

Screenings for colon cancer are supposed to start at age 50. But some groups suggest it should start earlier at 45. That’s because the number of people diagnosed under 50 have gone up 2% a year while cases among older adults are dropping.

“We’re now seeing this unfortunate rise in young onset,” said Michael Sapienza, the CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “I’ve been to more funerals than I can count for people in their twenties, thirties and their forties.”

“This will hopefully not only raise awareness in the older population, but may also increase interest in studies for younger patients,” said Dr. Brenda Jimenez, a gastroenterologist with Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston. “So that we can find causes and identify patients that are at higher risk.”

Traditionally, the biggest risk factor for colon cancer is family history.

But other things that put people at risk includes obesity, inactivity, smoking and eating a lot of red meat and processed foods.

That’s where screenings come in.

“It takes years for a polyp that is potentially precancerous to develop into cancer,” Jimenez said. “So if you catch it early enough, then, you can prevent cancer.”

Colon cancer is called the silent killer because you might not always show symptoms.

“I am living proof, living proof that it can save your life,” LaDow said. “So I would tell a young person at any age don’t put it off.”

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