LUMBERTON — For Karon Prince, blue is so much more than a favorite color.
As a colon cancer survivor, it’s a symbol of all she’s been through — and a plea to others to not forget about the disease she’s battled for the last eight months.
Prince, who lives in Lumberton, can usually be seen wearing blue, but in honor of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, she’s donning even more of her signature shade, and spreading her story to everyone she can. Her coworkers are lending a hand, wearing blue “Karing for Karon” bracelets.
“People ask me about my blue. I tell them I have colon cancer, I’m a survivor and you need to get tested,” Prince said.
Prince, 52, began experiencing abdominal pain in June 2013, but didn’t think anything of it until her boss at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center insisted she see a doctor. She was admitted to the hospital on June 28. On July 1, a colonoscopy found the tumor. The next day, she learned it was malignant.
“If I had gotten [the colonoscopy] when I turned 50 like I should have, maybe it wouldn’t have been Stage Three and I wouldn’t be having 12 rounds of chemo,” Prince said. Prince had surgery to remove the tumor, but has been on chemotherapy since November as a preventative measure.
Partly because of the chemotherapy, she often finds herself tired, then unable to sleep at night.
“You don’t have much energy,” Prince said. “Just by getting my clothes out of the wash I’m out of breath.”
She also experiences nausea and has to limit what events she attends because her compromised immune system can’t always protect her from large, bacteria-carrying crowds.
Dr. Kwadwo Agyei-Gyamfi, a gastroenterologist with Acme Medical Specialties in Lumberton, diagnosed Prince.
“He caught my cancer … he got me started going on my way and I really thank him for that,” she said.
Agyei-Gyamfi said only 33 percent of people nationwide who are at risk for colon cancer get screened, whether through a colonscopy, an X-ray or a stool test — and rates are especially low in Robeson County.
“It’s important to get screenings because of the high incidents and high deaths rates. Colon cancer affects every member of the family. Knowing your risk helps yourself and other members of your family,” Agyei-Gyamfi said.
Last year, there were 142,000 new cases of colon cancer in America and about 50,000 colon cancer-related deaths. In North Carolina, there were 4,260 new cases and 1,510 deaths, according to Agyei-Gyamfi.
In cases where the cancer is advanced, patients face a five-year survival rate of less than 40 percent. The survival rate jumps to 90 percent when the cancer is detected early.
Because there are few warning signs for colon cancer, Agyei-Gyamfi said it’s extremely important to get screened regularly.
“Most of the time, if you have symptoms it is an advanced cancer. Early colon cancer has no symptoms, the only way you will be able to detect colon cancer is a screen,” he said.
Agyei-Gyamfi said a family history of colon and other cancers can put people at greater risk. Blacks and those with Irritable Bowel Disease face a higher risk.
People over the age of 50 who don’t have any other risk factors should get a stool test every year, an X-ray every five years and a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. Those who face other risk factors or have had prior tests detect polyps should get tested more often, according to Agyei-Gyamfi.
This month, Agyei-Gyamfi said, everyone over the age of 50 — regardless of risk factors and health — should talk to their primary care doctor about what test to get and when to get it.
“If cancer is detected early, the better the treatment and the higher the chance of surviving the cancer,” he said.
Although people joke about colonoscopies and the evasiveness of the procedure, Prince said the disease is no laughing matter and the procedure is worth any discomfort.
“It’s an easy process, the prep is no fun but its an easy procedure. I didn’t feel a thing,” she said. “This type of cancer is preventable so get checked early.”