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Couple teams up to help others find colorectal cancer at its earliest stage

March 9, 2020

Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center assembles free colorectal cancer screening kits to distribute in March through Kansas Dillons Pharmacies.

Male and female associate from Ascension Via Christi

Rod Schmidt began volunteering at the Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center after his then 55-year-old brother, Terri, was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer.

“My brother became so weak and anemic that he couldn’t walk to his mailbox,” says Rod, noting that his brother’s cancer wasn’t detected through a regular screening because he didn’t have health insurance to pay for it. “I couldn’t let someone else go through something like that.”

That’s why Rod joined the ranks of the hundreds of Ascension Via Christi Volunteers Partners in Caring who regularly give their time in support of its mission.

For the past four years, he’s given his time to assemble the free colorectal cancer screening kits that Ascension Via Christi distributes through Kansas Dillons Pharmacies in March.

“We’ve got it down to a system now,” says Rod.

Each kit contains a welcome letter, collection sticks and cards, a test requisition form and a prelabeled envelope for sending the samples to the lab, all meticulously packed by Rod.

“This is a personal battle and it is so important because colorectal cancer is so preventable,” says Rod. “If I can save just one life, that’s my why.”

It’s a passion shared by his wife, Lisa, an oncology nurse navigator for Ascension Via Christi’s Cancer Outreach and Risk Assessment program, whose colonoscopy eight years ago revealed two pre-cancerous polyps,

They were then removed before they could become cancerous.

“Screening saved my life, but I was lucky enough to have access to a colonoscopy,” says Lisa. Thankfully, the Colon Cancer Coalition, which provides grant funding for the screening kits, also helps cover colonoscopies for those who need one but are un- or underinsured.

Getting screened early and regularly, says Rod and Lisa, is the best weapon against the second-leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined.

“There’s no reason you shouldn’t do this,” says Rod. “It’s free, easy, simple, beneficial and gives you a better survival rate if any signs of cancer are found early.”

So how does the screening work?

Simply pick up a kit and follow the instructions provided for collecting a stool sample. Then return it in the self-addressed envelope provided with the kit.

If the sample tests negative, the results will be sent by mail within a few weeks. If the specimen tests positive for traces of blood, an Ascension Via Christi nurse navigator will call you to discuss your results and recommended next steps.

Colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons against colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined.

Regular screening can prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer — a process that can take as many as 10 to 15 years. It also helps to detect colorectal cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage.

According to the American Cancer Society, which recommends that anyone 45 or older get tested, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent when colorectal cancer is found before it has spread. But only about four out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at this early stage. When cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.

Symptoms can include rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits and changes in bowel appearance; anyone experiencing any of these should see his or her doctor.