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San Diego survivor of colon cancer talks about the importance of prevention

Posted at 7:19 PM, Dec 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-06 22:19:31-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The sudden death of actress Kirstie Alley is generating attention to colon cancer.

The actress' family said she died after only recently being diagnosed.

The circumstances of her illness are unknown, but doctors say two scenarios are possible.

"Either they had an acute condition that happened from their colon cancer like a perforation and got sick, or their condition is so advanced that at that point, it's not suitable for any type of intervention," said Dr. Afshar Payam a Gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente.

Dr. Payam said some people delayed screenings during the pandemic; others may think they don't need to be checked because they have no symptoms or family history.

"Patients who have colon cancer generally do not have symptoms they have either rectal bleeding or iron deficiency and they are not aware of it," said Dr. Payam.

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. but it's also one of the most preventable and treatable when caught early.

Rosa Garrett is an avid runner with no family history of colon cancer. She completed the Boston Marathon in October of 2021.

Less than a year later, she was getting treated at Sharp Memorial Hospital for stage 3 colon cancer.

"I had some abdominal pain, but I feel fine, so it was a shock it was a real shock," said the Alpine mother and grandmother.

The 59-year-old's doctor first recommended an at-home screening test. Garrett's FIT (fecal immunochemical test) came back positive for blood. The next step was a colonoscopy.

"When I found out I had blood in my stool it was concerning, but I still didn’t think, I thought it was concerning, but I thought diverticulitis but I never imagined cancer," said Garrett.

The colonoscopy detected a mass roughly the size of a golf ball.

Garrett had half of her colon removed, her appendix, and some lymph nodes. One node came back positive resulting in the stage 3 diagnosis.

"It was really devastating, devasting," said Garrett.

She went through four rounds of grueling chemotherapy.

"Hardest thing I've ever done, even training for Boston marathon, chemo was harder," said Garrett.

She said she's starting to feel normal again, both physically and mentally.

Monday was her first day back at work. The same day the death of Kirstie Alley was announced.

"I grew up watching Cheers and I just knew her and at first I didn’t realize it was colon cancer. It just hits harder when I know that it’s colon cancer and somebody like that and why them and not me?"

Garrett shared a picture from the famous Cheers bar in Boston where she celebrated after completing the marathon.

Today, she's telling as many people as possible to get a colonoscopy.

"It was awful and I didn’t want to do it, but it’s so important because it’s so preventable. Colon cancer is slow growing so if you catch it early it’s better," said Garrett.

Doctors say when people turn forty-five they should talk to their primary care physician about what type of screening is best for them.