It was two years ago that Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir was diagnosed with colon cancer. Now a cancer survivor, the 55-year-old Bellendir is a staunch advocate for screening.
He was at the County Commission meeting Monday morning as the commission approved a proclamation recognizing March as Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
“People like myself don’t get screened regularly,” Bellendir said. Under the proclamation, citizens are encouraged to get age-appropriate screenings for colon cancer, be physically active, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol consumption and refrain from smoking.
He is stressing the importance of people getting a colonoscopy when they turn 50. “There are a lot of cases that would have been avoided,” he said.
“I had no idea that there was anything wrong,” he said. “I always put (getting a colonoscopy) off because there was no history of cancer in my family.”
By catching the cancer when he did, Bellendir said, he received treatment and his prognosis is good. He underwent surgery to remove a tumor and then chemotherapy.
Among the cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with this cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.
Colorectal cancer also is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States, according to the CDC. The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with advancing age. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people aged 50 or older.
According to the CDC, colon cancer affects 5 percent of Americans, or one in 20 individuals. During 2017, it is estimated that 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed.
But, Bellendir said it is also one of the most treatable cancers, if caught early.
“I have a personal relationship with colon cancer,” commission Chairman Jennifer Schartz said. Her husband is a survivor, but it claimed the life of her son.
Even though there are age recommendations for testing, Schartz said if there are signs, get tested earlier.
“We could have saved my son,” she said. “That’s a hard lesson to learn.”
In February 2000, President Bill Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.