Boyle County Cancer Survivor: The perfect timing for early detection

Written by Dalton Godbey
If Danville resident Kerry Howell ever missed work, it likely wasn’t because of being sick.

Howell, who has been employed as a tech supervisor at R.R. Donnelly’s for over three decades, never had many health concerns.

“I never took a pill in my life,” he said. “I hardly ever went to the doctor.”

But his wife, Sharon, is diligent with regular checkups and screenings. When he reached 50, she consistently asked him to schedule his recommended colonoscopy until she finally swayed his opinion.

“I bugged him so much about it that he finally went so I’d leave him alone.” she said.

Howell never believed that a colonoscopy was needed for many reasons. He had never experienced any symptoms of such seriousness that he felt the need to be screened. He also had no family history of colorectal cancer.

But in November of 2013, a colonoscopy revealed a massive tumor in his rectum. At 53, Howell was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer.

“I remember waking up and the doc telling me I had a 50/50 chance of surviving this,” recalled Howell. “If they hadn’t have found it in within a few more months, I could’ve died.”

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. In 2013, Kentucky had the highest incidence of colon cancer in the nation, and the fourth highest mortality rate. According to the Kentucky Cancer Registry, Boyle County alone has had more than 255 colorectal cancer cases since 2000.

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.

Within weeks of locating the cancerous tumor, doctors started Howell on a chemotherapy pill and regular radiation treatments in order to shrink the tumor so it could be removed. By January, the first round of chemo came to an end, and then surgeons removed the tumor. By May, another round of chemotherapy started that would continue until November.

Howell, concerned he wouldn’t be able to work during this time, pushed through the pain to continue his daily routine.

“I didn’t miss a day of work that whole time,” Howell said. “The worst thing anybody can do is not stay busy.”

Howell’s final round of chemotherapy ended in November of 2014, and today he remains cancer-free.

Experts stress the importance of knowing one’s body and paying attention to even the smallest symptoms such as stomach cramps and irregular bowel movements. When in doubt, seek answers from a physician.

Kerry Howell and his wife Sharon are continuing to raise awareness for early detection, as Howell has helped two friends detect colorectal cancer in its early stages. The Howells are continuously encouraging their friends and family to get colonoscopies even if they are experiencing minor symptoms. Howell, with strong faith and a positive attitude, is taking a terrible situation and creating something positive to the benefit of those around him.

Visit www.kickingbutt.org for more information about colon cancer, including symptoms and screening options. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you should consult a physician. For further information, contact Boyle County Health Department at (859) 236-2053 or call the Colon Cancer Prevention Project Hotline at 1-(800)-841-6399.