Cancer Screening: Reaping Rewards of Early Intervention

Seventy-three-year-old John Werries put off getting a baseline colonoscopy for years, even declining the simple colorectal cancer screening kits his wife offered to obtain for him during the screening kit give-away events presented annually by Jacksonville Memorial Hospital.

“I was just stubborn, I guess,” said John, a Morgan County corn and soybean producer who will harvest his fifty-sixth crop this fall, and who has always enjoyed fine health. The only hospital visits John has made in his life have involved a few cuts and broken bones over the years, a couple bouts of kidney stones, and one severed fingertip.

“Yes, I should have been getting the colonoscopies and doing the screening,” he said, “but I don’t like to go to the doctor or to the hospital. I just didn’t want to do it.”

It was at his wife, Ruthie’s, insistence that John finally relented and completed a colorectal cancer screening kit, which Ruthie picked up for him at a screening kit giveaway event in 2019.

John’s test came back positive for blood in the stool, which can be an indicator of numerous medical issues running the gamut from minor to life-threatening. Ruthie immediately scheduled a colonoscopy for John.

“Dr. [Daniel] Hallam told me after the colonoscopy that he had removed a polyp,” said John. Two days later, John received a call from Dr. Hallam, telling him that cancer had been confirmed in the removed polyp.

Five days later, following a series of appointments at the hospital for scans and consultation, John underwent surgery to remove a section of his large intestine.

As it happened, John’s surgery occurred on his seventy-second birthday.

“Most people said, ‘Oh, what an awful birthday present!’ but, on the other hand,” said John, “it was a great birthday present because on my birthday I was cancer-free.”

John and Ruthie have three grown sons, one of whom works alongside John on the family farm. “He just turned 52,” said John. “We work together every day and he saw what I went through with the surgery and in the days afterward. That was enough to convince him to go get a colonoscopy.”

John’s youngest son has yet to reach age 45, when medical experts generally recommend getting a baseline colonoscopy. When the time comes, “I’ll be working on him to get that colonoscopy,” said John.

In the meantime, John isn’t twisting any arms. He simply shares his story and hopes it can convince a few folks to get a colonoscopy or, at the very least, pick up a colorectal cancer screening kit to complete at home (the screening kit is not meant to take the place of a colonoscopy).

John’s cancer was caught early, and that made a significant difference in how quickly he was able to complete treatment and return to his active life.

“I asked Dr. Hallam when this all happened, about how long to recover,” said John. “He told me it would be about six to eight weeks – no lifting and all that – and I told him I’d have to be on the combine when we started harvesting corn. And I was. That was good incentive for my recovery.”

John enjoys piloting a Cessna 182 four-seat plane when he’s not at work in his fields, and he meets with a group of fellow pilots at the Jacksonville Municipal Airport each week. Those friends are all aware of John’s experience, and he hopes that is enough to convince anyone on the fence to participate in health screenings.

“They all know my story,” he said. “I can’t say I pointed a finger at each of them and said, ‘You need to be tested,’ but they know my story.”