When the Barton County Commission Monday morning approved a proclamation marking March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it was a deeply personal issue for two county officials in the commission chamber.
Sheriff Brian Bellendir is a colon cancer survivor. Commissioner Jennifer Schartz’s husband Shannon is a colon cancer survivor, but she lost her son Dane to the disease.
“I’m over here for my pet cause,” Bellendir said. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2014 but is now cancer free.
During this month, county 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 said.
Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, resulting in one in 20 men and one in 24 women being diagnosed with this cancer in their lifetimes. More than breast and prostate cancer, this amounts to 140,000 new cases annually leading to 56,000 deaths.
“This is one of the most preventable types of cancer,” Bellendir said. Colonoscopies and other screenings are crucial in catching this early, especially for those 50 and older.
“I could have saved myself the chemotherapy,” he said. But, he postponed seeking preventative measures.
“You don’t know how many people around you are affected by it,” he said. Now that he counts himself in the survivor column he is more aware of others who have or had the disease.
“When you’ve had someone in your life whose gone through this, every month in Colon Cancer Awareness Month,” Schartz said. “That’s the hideous nature of this disease. Everyone just needs to be vigilant about their bodies.”
According to the proclamation, there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States. It is believed that if the majority of people in the United States age 50 or older were screened regularly, half of all cases could be prevented entirely, and it is critical that all people, of all ages, know the signs and symptoms of the disease.
“The Commission, recognizing the importance of education in the early detection and screening of colon cancer, urge all citizens to be mindful of their health by observing safety practices and to bring their health concerns to their own medical care provider or the Barton County Health Department,” the proclamation reads.