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Colon cancer diagnosis turns Omaha man into advocate for health screenings

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 7:24 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The thread of COVID-19 in the past year has had much wider health implications. Many surgeries were postponed to limit the risk of exposure, and many patients didn’t feel comfortable going to the doctor.

One Omaha man who talked with 6 News understands the importance of detecting a problem early.

If you asked Carey Petersen five years ago how much energy he spent on his own preventative health, he’d tell you it wasn’t at the top of the list.

“I was one of those guys who wasn’t best at seeing their primary doctor on a regular basis,” he said.

Life has a way of testing that.

“It didn’t cross my radar at all that any of my symptoms could be colon cancer,” Petersen said.

It was Stage 2 cancer.

These days, he doesn’t hesitate to see a doctor. Early detection — the colonoscopy — saved his life.

“This was always something that would happen to someone else, not to me,” he said. “Colon cancer is supposed to happen when you are older, right?”

From his early days of chemotherapy to his last, Petersen turned advocate. Even without a family history, he urged his younger brother to get screened — his colon cancer was more advanced.

Both have recovered.

“The biggest change we’ve seen in 20-30 years is not because of better surgery or better chemo. It’s because of improved screening,” said Dr. George Dittrick, surgical oncologist at Methodist Eastbrook Cancer Center.

Even today, Petersen thinks about what could have been.

Three years ago, on a Mexican vacation, he figured a stomach bug was keeping him down — food poisoning probably. It lasted longer than usual, so he pushed back his original cancer screening — something that has been happening in droves during the pandemic.

“Anecdotally, over the past six months, we’ve seen what appears to be more advanced cancers than what we were seeing a year ago from delayed diagnosis,” Dr. Dittrick said.

No doubt that’s a concern among many in the medical field — something else from 2020 to be studied long-term.

“I think the outcome could have been very different if we hadn’t caught it when we did,” Petersen said. “It had a tremendous impact on my life, and I have a new appreciation on my life after going through everything.”

The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk to colon cancer start regular screenings at age 45.

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