Last year, Bret Dean, patient of JRMC Gastroenterologist, Meer Akbar Ali, M.D., learned firsthand the importance of colon cancer screenings.
Bret’s family doctor told him that it was time to have a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer due to his age. When Dr. Ali performed Bret’s colonoscopy, a pre-cancerous mass and a carcinoid tumor were found and both were removed right away.
“Knowing I had the beginning of cancer and now I don’t – the relief is just immense,” Bret said. “My family was very happy that I said yes to getting the procedure. It was a relief to all of them. When you have that testimony, there’s nothing better.”
Bret said the benefit of his colonoscopy far outweighed his fear of the procedure. “The way I understand the initial find was if we had waited another year or two, we would have had a totally different conversation,” Bret said. “We would have had to go down a long, hard road. Simply doing the thing that maybe seems uncomfortable or that you might be reluctant to do is 100 percent worth it. There was no downside for me.”
In addition to feeling grateful for the life-saving screening, Bret said he is also thankful for Dr. Ali. “Dr. Ali has all the qualities that you would want in a doctor that was giving specific care,” Bret said. “He was very thorough. He was detailed yet explained it in a way you’d think anybody could understand. He was friendly, approachable and obviously very knowledgeable. He lays it on the line, but he does it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you. He came in and found the problem and got rid of it. So for me, you just can’t get any better than that.”
Bret said he knew Dr. Ali was someone he could trust as soon as he went in for his colonoscopy. “The first interaction I ever had with Dr. Ali speaks volumes about the kind of doctor he is,” Bret said. “He walked by my room and goes to looking at charts. He introduced himself, we went through everything and then he said, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ And he wheeled me into the operating room for the colonoscopy himself. We get in there, and I’m like, ‘okay – he is a go-getter. I knew right out of the gate what kind of guy he was. I was apprehensive about the procedure, because I didn’t know what they were going to find, but his actions that day just put me at so much more ease, knowing he was the guy that was going to be in charge.”
Bret said the most comforting thing about Dr. Ali was that he cared, and it showed. “He was friendly and easy to talk to,” Bret said. “It was very quickly obvious that he cared. At no point did I feel like a number.”
Now that Bret has experienced a life-saving colon cancer screening, he said he recommends it to all his family and friends. “I tell everyone that I love and I care about, my friends, anybody that will listen to some degree, that they’ve got to get over the fear of a colonoscopy,” Bret said. “It can save your life – catching it before it gets bad is just the way to go.”
Bret said it’s important to understand what a wonderful opportunity colonoscopies give to catch cancer before it becomes devastating. “You can save yourself so much pain and anguish later,” he said. “Timing is everything on prevention, on catching things at early stages. The longer you wait, the more chance it is that it won’t be in the early stages, that it will be more significant and that it will be more impactful to your life long-term. There’s a difference between letting it go and hoping for the best and going in and knowing and doing something about it. When it’s time, it’s time.”
If he hadn’t decided to go through with the colonoscopy, Bret said he would have had no idea that he had the beginning stages of cancer. “I was having zero symptoms – I wouldn’t have known anything,” he said.
For Bret, the colonoscopy wasn’t at all a difficult experience. “The prep wasn’t anything to me, and the procedure was just a non event, really,” he said. “It was an interruption to a couple of my days, but then they found what could have turned into significant cancer and been life threatening. So in retrospect, it’s just nothing.”
Bret said he feels confident knowing that Dr. Ali took care of him last year, and he’ll continue to care for him in the future. “He made some healthy recommendations afterwards of some things that would be beneficial to my health,” Bret said. “Not only did he look out for me at that particular time, but in the long-term as well.”
Bret has a message for anyone who is unwilling to be screened for colon cancer: “Until you know you’re safe, you really don’t know. The reasons doctors want men and women to have this test done are based off of data. They’re based off of doctors wanting to save and better lives. If they tell you you’re at the age you need to go get tested, they’re not telling you that just so they can make money. They’re telling you that because there’s data supporting that it’s time for you to have that preventative check done. The interruption to your life when having the test done is not a drop in the bucket compared to the interruption of your life if you were to let something go unchecked and you ended up with cancer.”
This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we encourage you to make colon cancer screenings a priority in your life. Don’t wait to receive this life-saving procedure.