Oconomowoc man cheats colon cancer
At age 42, Shane Kraemer had no idea he was about to embark on a medical journey that seemed unlikely for someone his age.
The Town of Oconomowoc resident was diagnosed last year with Stage 3 colon cancer.
Thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, Kraemer joins the nearly 1 million Americans who are colon cancer survivors.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and Kraemer hopes his story will help others take proactive measures.
"I do have a history of cancer on my father's side of the family. But at age 42, I never really thought about it. I was not so much surprised as shocked (at the diagnosis)," he said.
Typically, screening for colorectal cancers begins at age 50.
Kraemer's surgeon, Dr. Kirk Ludwig at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin, said that is based on science.
"The recommendation that screening begins at age 50 is based on where we find the bulk of colon and rectal cancers, so 50 is the mark," he said, unless the patient is at significant risk because of other factors.
"There are situations where you have people screened at earlier ages for strong family history. Talk it over with family doctor to assess your risk. The key message is if you are having symptoms, they should be investigated," the doctor added.
Kraemer, father of a 22-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter, said he was having symptoms.
"I was going to the bathroom a lot. Of course, I did put off going to doctor for awhile. I didn't think of cancer," he said.
His physician ordered a colonoscopy, which confirmed the disease.
"If I were to say anything, it's that your body tells you when something is wrong; whether we choose to listen is another thing," Kraemer said.
"If it's giving you a sign, don't hesitate to get it checked out," he said.
The avid outdoorsman sought a second opinion at Froedtert.
"My father-in-law worked with a guy that was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer and went through Froedtert. I'm glad I did; some places are just a little more together and have a different plan of attack. Froedtert has a tumor board, a team of doctors that meet once a week," he explained.
Kraemer underwent chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor, then surgery to remove it, and nine sessions of chemotherapy afterward.
"There was nothing easy about it. Radiation is really hard on the body; chemo is too. It wears you down physically and mentally," he said.
Kraemer thinks his younger age may have helped him to bounce back from the treatments. He is cancer-free now.
"Things are on the upswing," he said.
"I hope to get back into the lifestyle I was living," he said of the hunting and fishing seasons he lost out on last year while he focused his energy on fighting the disease.
"Now, hopefully everything is behind me and I can back with a little more zest," he said.
He reiterates advice offered by medical professionals:
"If something is wrong, get it checked out, that is the most prevailing thing. Don't mess around; the quicker the diagnosis, the better the chances," he offered.
Ludwig said people should also follow guidelines and insist on having a colonoscopy, even if their physicians don't bring the topic up.
According to information from Froedtert Hospital, a recent Centers for Disease Control report showed that nearly one in three adults (ages 50-75) is not being tested for colon cancer.
With a colonoscopy, doctors can find polyps and remove them before they become cancerous.
Colon cancer kills 50,000 Americans each year; 80 percent of these deaths can be prevented with colonoscopies and lifestyle change.
Lifestyle changes include avoiding diets high in fat, eating a lot of red meat and processed food.
"These diets put people at a higher risk," he said.
It also includes exercise. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for colon/rectal cancer, Kraemer pointed out, advocating that people find a way to incorporate that into their lives.
"The main message is that the thing about colon cancer is in so many cases it is preventable. Screening is such an important concept. If we can just intervene and get polyps we can avoid cancer. Removing the polyps dramatically reduces the chance of cancer," he said.
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