Margo Beck’s fiftieth year had been one of her best, filled with lasting memories of New York City, Saint Martin, and a Dallas Cowboys game. But with a new decade of life ahead, there remained an important box to check to ensure her health—a screening colonoscopy for colorectal cancer.
Margo had heard in TV ads that her fiftieth birthday meant it was time to get screened, and her doctor urged her, too. Screening is the No. 1 way to prevent colorectal cancer or detect it early, when the disease is most treatable. The American Cancer Society recommends average-risk people start screening at age 45.
“I’ve always been pretty good about keeping up with my health screenings,” Margo said. “It’s up to me to take care of me and follow the guidelines that are put out there for a reason.”
But a large mass, developing undetected in Margo’s colon, had other plans for the day.
“My life was going along pretty good until I had to meet the doctor after my colonoscopy,” Margo said. “It’s a moment in time you’ll never forget.”
Margo’s doctor walked into a waiting room after the procedure and put a scan of her abdomen on the wall. The growing mass was obvious, and the doctor said it had to come out with surgery.
“At that point, I went blank, like it was happening to someone else,” Margo said. “And before I knew it, he was setting up an appointment with a surgeon … I had the tumor out within a month.”
Margo’s cancer was determined to be stage I. Doctors removed 13 inches of Margo’s sigmoid colon, but due to the early staging of her disease, she did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.
Colorectal cancer caught at its earliest stage, stage I, has a 90 percent survival rate. Colorectal cancer often begins to develop without symptoms, which is why screening is critical.
“I was lucky it was caught early — had I waited, who knows?” Margo said. “Another month, another year, maybe I wouldn’t have been so lucky.”
“I’m proud of myself for being my own advocate, knowing that screening needed to be done and getting it done,” Margo said. “I’m fortunate for having caught it early … I’ll be five years cancer-free next March.”
Inspired by her experience, Margo is now advocating for colorectal cancer screenings among family, friends, and colleagues. Many of those in her social circle were aware of her journey, and they’d ask supportive questions.
“So I’d ask questions, like have you had a colonoscopy? Is cancer in your family?” Margo said. “One colleague, who was 55 and hadn’t been screened, I kept bugging her about it. I’m surprised I still have friends.”
As soon as Margo received her diagnosis, her doctor recommended that her family get tested, too. Fortunately, all of her family members were fine.
Still, a third of eligible adults are not being screened.
It’s a lot easier to prevent colorectal cancer than it is to cure it.
These red flags could aid in the detection and diagnosis of colorectal cancer among younger adults, as the incidence of this disease in young people has nearly doubled in recent years.
Being aware of the facts can have potentially life-saving benefits.