At 53, Scott Martin looks like the picture of health. He eats right, exercises regularly, doesn’tsmoke and makes an honest effort to take good care of himself. That’s why at age fifty, it didn’t really dawn on him to schedule himself for a colonoscopy.
“I was really good about getting my annual physicals; my heart, my blood work and everything all looked great,” said Scott, “but the primary care doctor I was seeing in Jacksonville didn’t indicate to me that fifty was the time I should go ahead and get my first colonoscopy done. Of course, we are all responsible for our own health and I have seen and read a lot about early detection, so I really should have considered it myself, but it just wasn’t a priority.”
Two years later, Scott transitioned his care to St. Augustine and his physician told him it was past time to get his first colon cancer screening done. He scheduled himself an appointment and faithfully completed the required pre-test regimen.
“During the procedure, they put you in sort of a twilight state. When I awoke, my wife was standing there with tears in her eyes and my doctor looked serious. I knew right away something was wrong. Turns out, the doctor had seen what he knew from experience to be cancer, and further testing confirmed that I had stage 3 colon cancer,” said Scott. “No one can know for sure, but it is most likely that if I had come in for my first test two years earlier at 50, they would have seen some pre-cancerous polyps and just scraped them off right then and there and I never would have had to deal with this frightening and grueling cancer diagnosis – something I would never wish on anyone.”
Like most people, Scott’s initial reaction was a desire to get the cancerous tissue out of his body as soon as possible. “I just wanted it out,” he said, “and thankfully I was referred to a really great surgeon right here in town,” he continued, “and was in the operating room at Flagler Hospital within3 days of my diagnosis. My doctor was able to successfullyremove all the cancerous tissue laparoscopically and send me right on to an oncologist for the next phase of my treatment.”
Scott met next with Dr. Marc Warmuth, who discussed his options and treatment plan and let Scott know that he would be able to get top notch care right here in St. Augustine. Because his chemotherapy would last six months, staying close to home was a real advantage.
“When it came to having surgery, I just wanted to get it done as fast as possible and didn’t even think about shopping around. But facing 6 months of chemo, I seriously considered looking at some of the big cancer names. After talking with Dr. Warmuth though, and having such a great experience in surgery and as an inpatient at Flagler, I decided I would stay right here to continue my care. And I am so glad I did. It was comforting to be soclose to home - in fact, I can see Flagler Hospital from my window – and I can’t imagine having gotten better care anywhere else. From diagnosis, through treatment and recovery, everyone at the hospital was just really caring and supportive.”
Today, Scott feels cautiously optimistic about his health. He says the whole experience has brought him closer to his family and closer to God – and even though it was the most difficult time in his life there were many positives that came out of it. He is sharing his story to encourage every man and woman out there to have a colonoscopy at age 50.
“I’m just a good old country boy,” he says, “maybe even viewed as a little bit of a tough guy by some and there are lots of guys around here just like me who think to themselves – ‘I’m good. I really don’t need to have any doctor messing around with me like that’. But let me tell you something. The screening test is no big deal. Having a test that you might think is going to be a little embarrassing or invasive is absolutely nothing compared with what you have to deal with when you get cancer. Just man up and get the test done. You won’t be sorry. I sure wish I had done it sooner.”
Unlike Scott, Joe Marx was very aware from a young age about the importance of colon cancer screening. With a family history of colon cancer, Joe has been getting screenings regularly since he was in his forties. Unfortunately, at 63, his screening revealed that he did indeed have stage 2 colon cancer.
“It’s important to focus on hope and recovery when you talk with patients and their families about their diagnosis and all the available treatments,” commented Joe’s gastroenterologist Stuart Soroka, MD. “Even if it’s stage 4, there is always hope, and the minute a diagnosis occurs, it’s time to focus on that. What I want to share most today though, is that colon cancer is a preventable disease and there is no reason anyone with access to regular testing should get to stage 4 or, tragically, die of colon cancer.”
After his diagnosis, much like Scott, Joe was very focused on getting the cancer removed as soon as possible and was in surgery at Flagler Hospital within 5 days of his diagnosis. Getting in quickly was crucial to me,” Joe said, and all my doctors and the people at Flagler were very helpful in making that happen. The surgeon did an amazing job and even though I was there under terrible circumstances I was just ecstatic about the care I received while in the hospital.”
A bit of a scientist, Joe did significant research about his diagnosis and, in concert with his physicians, made the decision to go ahead with chemotherapy even though his cancer was caught relatively early and was completely removed.
“It was important that my doctors and my caregivers really listened to me and included me in the decision-making process, which they all did,” commented Joe. “I created my own binder to track all of my appointments, conversations, information about clinical trials, my bills, support groups – just about everything you can think of - and that helped keep me on track.”
Joe took advantage of the many free classes offered at Flagler’s Cancer Education & Support Center and says a multi-faceted treatment program is a key component to the healing process.
“At Flagler, they have yoga for cancer patients, creative journaling and a whole array of other classes. I took part in as many as I could and I think that really helped me heal both mentally and physically. I also have a wonderful wife and a supportive family, which was a tremendous help.”
Today, Joe says he’s as healthy as a man in his sixties can be and he is looking forward to sharing many more years with his wife and family. He remains committed to being vigilant about taking care of his own health and, along with Scott Martin and Dr. Soroka encourages all the men and women in our community to do the same.
“I see patients every day who are coming to me because they have symptoms: stomach pain, blood, weakness, fatigue, unexplained weight loss - and the diagnosis is often a later stage of colon cancer,” said Dr. Soroka. “Please, don’t wait for symptoms. If you are 50 or older and have not been screened schedule your appointment – and if you are any age and have a family history of colon cancer, speak with your doctor about this today. Together, we can prevent colon cancer.”