How Not to Die From Colon Cancer

me and mom at Donald Dixon's annual family picnicMy mom would have been sixty-three years old today. She died in April 2007, from Stage 4 colon cancer.

A few weeks ago, I came across the last email I sent after her funeral, to the literally hundreds of people who supported and helped us over the ten months between her diagnosis and her funeral.

It seems like a good time to repeat the message. Here’s what I wrote:

There’s something that’s been weighing on me about this whole experience that I feel I need to share with anyone who will listen. My mom had a deep faith in God that sustained her through this experience. But she also used that faith as an excuse to ignore her personal responsibility. She and many many others prayed for a miracle to cure her, but the truth is, she had all the tools she needed to prevent my sister and I from being half orphaned.

It’s a textbook example of the parable about a man who is sitting on his front porch and a National Guard jeep comes up to him and the driver tells him that there is a big flash flood coming and he is here to rescue him. The man just replies that he trusts in God to save him. The same happens when the flood gets up to his second story, and boat comes to get him, and when the flood is at the top of his house and a helicopter throws a line to him. Each time the man replies, No thanks, God will save me. As a result, the man drowns. He goes to heaven and says to God, somewhat dismayed, Lord, I trusted in You to save me! Why did you not help me? God replied, I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter, what more do you want?

God sent mom two daughters who loved to her to pieces and literally begged her to stop smoking ( a huge contributor to colon cancer deaths). I can remember hiding her cigarettes from the time I was old enough to know they were bad.

She had a sister who is a doctor, who found out we were at genetic risk for colon cancer and pestered all her siblings to get screened (none of them did and my uncle Jonathan also died from colon cancer). That was 10 years before she died, plenty of time to catch things early, or prevent it altogether.

Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and very curable when detected early. My grandmother was diagnosed at age fifty and she’s coming up on her 90th birthday in a few months. Mom had symptoms from her own body, warning her that something was wrong—which she ignored for years until they got too painful and by then it was far too late.

To say that my sister and I are just a little pissed off about the senselessness of all this would be a gross understatement. To be honest, as things got worse and worse, and mom prayed harder and harder, every time I heard her say to someone, “I choose life!” I wanted to smack her and say, “YOU’RE LATE!”

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that people have to make their own decisions. So all I can do is share our story and hope that if you’re reading this rant and there’s someone in your life that you’d like to stick around for, you’ll take this lesson to heart and give mom’s silly little sacrifice some meaning.

I’ve had two colonoscopies in the past 7 years. Honestly the worst part is the prep. Once you actually make it to the procedure, they give you the good drugs and you just wake up a little while later feeling woozy and forgetful.

There’s enough stuff out there that can kill you and something’s going to get the best of you sometime. But this one is pretty easy to prevent. I hope you will.

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24 Comments


  1. Thanks for this post, and specifically for not saying that this thought process is a result of religion specifically (most people feel that way).

    At the very core of my belief in God is the concept of agency, in that God will always allow you to act for yourself. It’s in those choices that you’re judged, so why would it be fair to have God interfere in your choices?

    On the topic of agency, a friend once said “God gave you your agency and a brain”, which really hit me. God has given you all the tools you need to make your own decisions, and the places that God may present an opportunity for that “deliverance” you’ve prayed so much for require you to use your brain to see it as such.

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  2. Thanks for sharing!!! I remember this all too well. I miss your mom, but I’m so thankful that you are not (quite) as stubborn as she was. Keep getting your colonoscopies. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for sharing. I had a really interesting experience going with a friend to provide hypnotherapy so he could skip the anesthesia. He actually found watching the video interesting enough to do nothing but some preliminarily relaxation. (I also did the hypnosis for his prostate biopsy, he needed me their for that.) I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to my first in a few years, but no less so than my next dental cleaning. I plan to do self-hypnosis, although when I get into my mid-60s when family history suggests I’m likely to need polyp removal, I may change my mind.

    Thanks for sharing this, I know it must be painful but it’s important.

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