Berea colon cancer survivor advocates for awareness and early detection

Written by Dalton Godbey

While filling out some paperwork at her family doctor’s office before a check-up, Berea resident Brenda White was asked to check off a list of symptoms she had experienced. White in fact had some symptoms such as stomach pain and some bleeding, but nothing that had made her seriously concerned.

“I was just checking off some minor symptoms on that sheet,” she recalled. “I never knew how big of an impact it would have.”

Although she was only 49 at the time, her doctor recommended a colonoscopy. Usually, doctors don’t recommend regular screenings until age 50, but White’s symptoms concerned him.

After her visit to the doctor, White’s husband encouraged her to get the colonoscopy.

“My husband had recently gotten one and told me that it wasn’t too big of a deal.” she said.

A few days later, White’s colonoscopy revealed a tumor that was causing a blockage in her colon. She was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

Colon cancer strikes more than 130,000 people in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among cancers that affect both men and women. Kentucky as of 2013 ranks No. 1 for colon cancer incidence and No. 4 for colon cancer mortality in the U.S. Madison County has had 500 colorectal cancer cases since 2000, according to the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

This summer, the Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center and the Colon Cancer Prevention Project are teaming up to share survivor stores in southern Kentucky communities to bring awareness to early detection.

The news after White’s colonoscopy came as a shock. She was relatively young and had no family history. The doctor soon informed her that surgery would be necessary. He removed 18 inches of White’s colon, and two surrounding lymph nodes where the cancer had spread. Soon after, she began chemotherapy.

Her treatments came to an end in December of 2011, and White has lived cancer-free ever since.

However, her battle with colon cancer wasn’t completely over. Having been through the cancer herself, White suggested her close family members be screened. Many did, and most came back with a clean bill of health. All but two, including her youngest brother, Tim Wheat.

His colonoscopy revealed stage four colon cancer. He fought the disease for three years but was not able to overcome it. He died in 2014.

Around the same time, White’s cousin, Jack Himes, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. He had waited almost two years to get his colonoscopy, and by the time of the diagnosis, it was too late. He battled the disease for almost two years before his death.

“I was devastated,” White said. “I would’ve traded places with them in an instant.”

Colon cancer affected White’s life more than anything had before, and now she advocates for early detection any chance she gets.

She knows first-hand the importance early detection and urges those with symptoms and family history to be screened right away.

“You don’t have to be 50 to get a colonoscopy,” she said. “It can happen to anyone at any age, and family history should be a big red flag.”

On the first Friday of March, Colon Cancer Awareness Month, you can find White proudly wearing her blue in support of awareness efforts. She even puts together goody bags for those going through chemo with things they might find handy along the way.

“Anything I can do for awareness, I’ll do,” White said. “Continuing to raise awareness will save lives.”

Visit www.kickingbutt.org for more information about the disease, including symptoms and screening options. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you should consult a physician. For further information, contact the Madison County Health Department at (859) 623-7312 or call the Colon Cancer Prevention Project Hotline at 1-(800)-841-6399.