Michael Deboe Sr., of Savannah, understands the benefits of colon cancer screening all too well. For one thing, he’s a clinical pharmacist at Memorial Health University Medical Center (MHUMC). Working at a hospital, he sees how early detection can improve a cancer patient’s outcome. But Deboe is also an experienced healthcare customer. For years, he’s been a regular patient of gastroenterologist Steven Carpenter, M.D., and the colonoscopy team at MHUMC.
“Dr. Carpenter refers to me as a ‘polyp producer.’ I would have four or five polyps every time I had a procedure. Because of that, Dr. Carpenter had me on a schedule of getting a colonoscopy every three years,” said Deboe.
A colon polyp is a small bump or growth on the lining of the large intestine. Most colon polyps are not a problem, but some of them can turn into colon cancer, the third most common non-skin cancer in the United States. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know just by looking if a polyp will turn into cancer or not. That’s why doctors recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. During a colonoscopy, the doctor can spot and remove any polyps from the large intestine.
On June 8, 2015, Deboe had a colonoscopy. Because of his history, he expected Carpenter to tell him that they had removed some polyps and everything was fine. But this time, it was different.
“When I woke up and I was still in a certain room, I knew something was going on. Dr. Carpenter and my wife, Jan, came into the room together and told me the news,” said Deboe.
Carpenter had found a cancerous tumor in Deboe’s colon. It was an area slightly larger than a pencil eraser. Thanks to his routine colonoscopy screening, they caught it early, before it could spread outside of the colon.
One month later, surgeon James Garber, M.D., performed a hemicolectomy on Deboe. He removed the right portion of the large intestine and created a new attachment between the large and small intestine. This allows the intestine to function normally, even though a portion of it is gone.
To customize his treatment plan and determine what would be best for him, Deboe chose to have a genomic test that would estimate his risk of having a cancer recurrence. The test showed he had a greater than 10-percent chance of facing colon cancer again. To cut that risk, he and his doctors decided he would benefit from chemotherapy.
Deboe also received chemotherapy treatments every other week for six months.
“Chemo is a journey. You never know what’s around the corner. Some days are good and some are rough. It takes a toll on you and your family,” said Deboe.
From September 2015 through February 2016, he worked full-time during the weeks he was not receiving chemo. During his treatment weeks, he did the best he could to deal with the side effects of the cancer-killing drugs.
“God and prayers got me through it, along with my wife, my son, and the thoughts and kindness of friends, neighbors, and co-workers,” said Deboe. “Without all of them, I wouldn’t have made it.”
Now that he’s completed chemotherapy, he’ll continue long-term follow-up visits and screening. He’s 68 and looking forward to many years of good health thanks to his diligent screening and early detection.