Friend's Nudge Leads to Early Cancer Detection

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Michelle Hultine says reports on colon cancer didn't go unheard in her family, but they did go unheeded.

"We all remember my father saying, 'You know, I should have one of those done.' He didn't and at that time he was about age 50," she says.

A few years later, Hultine's dad was diagnosed with colon cancer that had already reached and untreatable stage.

Her friend Gayle Hahn says screening was something the family started talking about with everyone.

"She made it her mission to convince everybody that she knew that if they hadn't had a colonoscopy that they needed to get one," says Hahn.

Hahn wasn't yet 50, the age doctors recommend people start getting screened, but she had a colonoscopy done anyway. What doctors found likely saved her life - polyps in her colon. One was cancerous.

"I had no family history of it, I had no symptoms, I felt fine, and I was just at a regular checkup... I just am so thankful," says Hahn. "Had I waited the three or four years until I was at the right age, my story might have a different ending."

The CDC says Nebraska has some of the highest colorectal cancer rates, but lowest screening rates.

South Heartland District Health Department Executive Director Michele Bever says that when detected early, the survival rate for colon cancer is up to 90%, but only about a third of cases get diagnosed at those stages.

Bever says with options like a take-home Fecal Occult Blood Test (that looks for blood in the stool), there's no reason not to know.

"In the South Heartland area our screening rates are lower than the national average and we have a ways to go, our target would be to have 80% of those adults aged 50-75 complete the recommended screening activities," says Bever. "We can put resources toward that and bring a lot of folks to it and it's great to have Michelle and Gayle to testify to the importance of screening."

While it's not a fun subject to talk about, Hultine says knowing their discussion helped Hahn makes it worth it.

"I'm very fortunate that I get to have a best friend around for a long dang time to come. We've been friends for 20 plus years and so there's probably another 20 plus years left in us," she says.

Hahn hopes her story can now help others.

"If I can make one more person go in and have an early test, it's worth it to me," says Hahn.

"It's a free pass," says Hultine. "It's a free pass in life. Nobody should get colon cancer."