“[The colonoscopy] probably saved his life.”
A couple learns a life-saving lesson.
MNPS art teacher Julie Staehling knew the importance of preventive care and thought she and her husband, Art, were doing the right things. But when it came to colon cancer screening, life got in the way.
“I have a daughter with autism, and my husband has multiple sclerosis,” Julie says. “I work a lot and I don’t like to miss school. It should have been a priority and it wasn’t.”
Then she got a letter in the mail from the MNPS Health Care Centers saying she was eligible for a free in-home colon cancer screening kit from Cologuard®. The letter prompted Julie and Art to take action.
“It was way past time,” she admits.
Initially, they opted for colonoscopies over the less-invasive Cologuard kit, which allows users to submit a stool sample taken in their own homes. But before they could set up their colonoscopy appointments, they received an email saying Cologuard kits were on the way. So they waited for them to arrive, and then submitted their samples.
Julie’s results were normal. But Art’s indicated a problem among the 11 molecular markers the test checks for. Although he had a clean colonoscopy several years before, he followed up with another. Doctors found and removed a number of mushroom-shaped polyps, but one polyp was different and not easily removed during the colonoscopy. A biopsy showed it was benign, but his health care team was concerned the polyp was precancerous and recommended surgery to remove it and part of the colon around it.
The Staehlings believe the screenings saved Art’s life. Years before, he had survived prostate cancer, but that was detected because he hadn’t been feeling well.
“With this, it was different,” Julie says. “There were no warning signs of a problem.”
Art recovered from the surgery quickly and is doing well. He knows he will need more frequent screenings. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women over 50, but is among the most preventable and treatable if found early.
Although the Staehlings are grateful for the convenience of the Cologuard kits, they have a message about getting a colonoscopy: “It’s not a big deal,” Art says. “Other than the fact you need a driver. It’s not hard like people say, which is partly why we put it off.”
Under the MNPS Certificated Employee Health Plan, there is no cost for the Cologuard kit or a screening colonoscopy, if eligible.
“Why would you not do that?” says Julie. “I’m not sure my husband would have ever gotten a colonoscopy because he had so much already going on with his health. In the end, it probably saved his life.”
Dr. Martha Shepherd, MNPS Health Care Centers’ medical director, was not surprised by the Staehlings’ initial procrastination.
“People with other medical issues sometimes put that one on the back burner,” she says.
Although anyone over age 50 should be screened for colon cancer, the Cologuard kit is only for people who have no symptoms and no family history of colorectal cancer.
Julie Staehling with husband Art
Shayne Elementary School
Have you been screened?
It can be confusing to know which screenings you need and how often. The MNPS Health Care Centers can help! We provide well-care for women and men and referrals for age-appropriate screenings like mammograms and cervical, colorectal and other types of cancer screenings. Call us for an appointment at 615-259-8755.