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Family continues fight; lost father, husband to colon cancer

March 1, 2019

FULTON, Miss. (AP) — Colon cancer can feel like something that only happens to people on the other side of 50.

Melanie Taylor of Fulton knows too well it can strike much earlier. Her husband Don died in September at the age of 32 after a nearly two-year battle with Stage IV colon cancer.

“I feel like the conversation needs to be started,” she said. “I was that person who never thought it could happen to us.”

Saturday morning, Taylor, sons Denton Russell and Brady Taylor, extended family and friends were set to pull out their Team Don T-shirts and join the annual Run for Your Buns 5K at Fairpark in downtown Tupelo, which aims to increase the awareness of colon cancer and help fund the NMMC Cancer Care Fund. Participating in the run and the March 29 Blue Tie Affair are part of keeping Don Taylor’s legacy alive for the Taylors.

“In order for people to take it seriously, it has to be personal,” Taylor said. “He would want us to share his story and keep sharing it.”

INCREASING RATES

American Cancer Society researchers found that the incidence of colon and rectal cancers has been increasing in adults between 20 and 50. At the same time, the rates for adults over 50 have been dropping, which researchers attribute to wider access to screening and the removal of precancerous growths.

Based on the analysis, the ACS revised its recommendations, suggesting those with average risk start screening for colon cancer at age 45 instead of age 50.

Gastroenterology professional groups have not changed their guidelines which recommend African-Americans start screening at 45 and others of average risk start at 50, but they are looking closely at how to address the increase, said Tupelo gastroenterologist Dr. Stephen Amann.

People have options for colon cancer screening. Colonoscopies remain the gold standard for screening because they examine the whole colon and allow for the removal of growths in the colon called polyps. Not all polyps will become colon cancer, but virtually all colon cancer starts as a polyp. Less invasive tests look for microscopic traces of human blood, but are not as sensitive as colonoscopy and have to be repeated more frequently. Screening has proven very effective, Amann said.

“The curve is now bending downward instead of continuing to climb,” Amann said. “It’s a matter of getting it out to more people.”

While there is debate on when to start screening, all the groups are unified on the need for prompt evaluation when young adults have symptoms like rectal bleeding and unexplained anemia.

“It can’t be ruled out because they aren’t old enough,” Amann said.

Women in their 20s and 30s don’t hesitate to have a lump in their breasts checked, even though they aren’t in the age group for breast cancer screening, Melanie Taylor said. She would like to see people approach symptoms that match colon cancer the same way.

“They don’t want to talk about stomach issues,” Melanie Taylor said. “I wish it had crossed our minds.”

DIAGNOSED AT 30

In November 2016, Don Taylor sought medical care when fatigue that had been dogging him for months became too much. The next day, tests revealed colon cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs.

Her husband felt relief that he had a definitive answer for the source of the fatigue, Taylor said. Don had a gift for seeing the positive in any situation, and cancer didn’t take that from him. A volunteer with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, he joined local efforts to spread the word about colon cancer.

“He always felt this was his testimony,” Taylor said.

Surgery would successfully clear the cancer from his colon. However, the tumors in his liver were more troublesome. He went through three procedures at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to try to remove the tumors, but it was not successful. Chemotherapy kept them at bay until the summer of 2018.

“He was able to work up until six weeks before he passed,” Taylor said.

Along the way, the family received assistance from the NMMC Cancer Care Fund, which helps cancer patients and their families with things like pain and anti-nausea medications, nutritional supplements, transportation for treatment and other supplies.

Taylor wants to continue his legacy by advocating for colon cancer screening and young families dealing with cancer.

“I want him to be remembered,” she said.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com