Be Like Dennis: Get Screened for Colon Cancer

Dennis Pella
Dennis Pella shares his story about being diagnosed with colon cancer after he completed a colon cancer screening fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit in the fall of 2019. “If other people learn from my experience, that’s good! My story ended up having a positive outcome. I would like to tell people who are afraid, or who haven’t thought about cancer screening, that it is good to do,” said Pella.

It’s a good thing Dennis Pella listened to his wife Pennie when she asked him to get their colon cancer screening tests from their family doctor because, little did Dennis know, he had colon cancer.

“My wife received her colon cancer screening reminder letter in the mail, and I was going to see my doctor about another issue that week. So, my wife said to bring the letter in and get the requisition completed for both of our screening kits,” said Dennis. “I’m not the kind of person who would run to see the doctor, so it felt out of character for me to ask to have my requisition completed too, but I’m glad that I did.”

The simple, at-home colon cancer screening test that the Pellas received in the mail, after having their requisition completed by their doctor, is called a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit. The FIT kit is Ontario’s colon cancer screening test for average risk (no first-degree family history of colon cancer – e.g. parent, sibling, child) individuals between the ages of 50 and 74 years, every two years. It has been available since June of 2019, and it only requires that you to collect a small, single stool sample in a test kit. The sample is then mailed to a lab for testing, and is analyzed for microscopic bits of blood which could indicate that colon cancer is present. Depending on the results, one might be asked to do follow up testing, or asked to complete another FIT kit in two years.

As it turns out, the FIT kit result letters that the Pella’s received showed that Pennie’s results were normal, but Dennis required follow-up.

“I completed my FIT kit in September, then had a follow-up colonoscopy in October where they removed a large polyp. I thought that would be it, but while I was away with my wife, I was getting phone calls from our family doctor and the doctor who did my colonoscopy. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize the phone numbers so didn’t answer the calls. It turns out that the polyp they tested from my colonoscopy was positive for cancer, and that I needed a surgery,” Dennis explained.

Pella underwent laparoscopic surgery in January to remove six inches of his ascending colon, which had a two week recovery period after which he felt good. He did not require any other cancer treatment and his pathology report showed that the cancer had not spread – all great news!

“I remember that my surgeon told me that colon cancer is a silent killer. He said that I’d probably had this cancer growing inside me for several years, and I was surprised because I had no symptoms,” said Dennis. “I had done baseline screening years ago, but it had been a while since my last screening.  It goes to show how important cancer screening is, and that you should follow-through with screening tests, especially as you get older.”

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men and third most common cause of cancer deaths in women in Ontario. But the good news is that if caught early through regular cancer screening, there is a 90% chance that it can be cured – just like Dennis.

“If other people learn from my experience, that’s good! My story ended up having a positive outcome. I would like to tell people who are afraid, or who haven’t thought about cancer screening, that it is good to do. At first you might say ‘I don’t want to do that’, but the reality is, you just have to do it.”

Thanks to the FIT kit (and Dennis’ wife, Pennie), Dennis can continue to spend his retirement doing what he loves – travelling, golfing, fishing and spending time with his family. Be like Dennis: get screened for colon cancer.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Anyone aged 50 to 74 years, with no first-degree family history (e.g. parent, sibling, child). Complete your colon cancer screening by booking an appointment with your health care provider today. If you don’t have a health care provider, you can get your FIT kit from the Screen for Life Coach by calling (807) 684-7777 or from Telehealth Ontario by calling 1-866-828-9213.