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Words of Wisdom from a Stage IV Colon Cancer Survivor

Colon cancer survivor Phil Decker at the 2022 Boston Marathon.

“NED.” Three letters that every cancer patient wants to hear from their care team. It’s an acronym which stands for “No Evidence of Disease,” and that’s exactly what Stage IV colon cancer survivor Phil Decker heard from his care team in January, a little more than a year after his diagnosis.

Decker’s Journey so Far

It’s not been an easy road. Decker’s 2022 consisted of 12 rounds of chemo, four trips to the emergency department, 15 days in the hospital and two surgeries. However, he wasn’t going to let these speed bumps slow him down – literally.

Decker is a marathon runner, and he completed two of them last year while in active treatment. And he ran both with the intention to give back. Using his platform at the Boston and Chicago Marathons, Decker raised over $25,000, which was split evenly between our community partner, the I Know Jack Foundation, and Children’s Cancer Connection. He also started a foundation, Tell 5 Friends, with the goal to raise money for cancer organizations and increase awareness around colon cancer screening.

What to do When Faced with a Life-Changing Diagnosis

Whether it’s cancer, a major heart condition or any other diagnosis that could turn a patient’s world upside down, it’s helpful to hear from someone who’s been there before. Now with some time to reflect upon his cancer journey, Decker is sharing his advice for anyone faced with a life-changing diagnosis.

1.      Don’t Panic

“My first piece of advice would be to not panic,” he said. “Once you get the diagnosis, there’s going to be a lot of tests and you’re going to figure a lot of things out. Don’t think it’s the end of the world at that time because a lot will happen in the next couple weeks to a month.”

2.      Stay Positive

“The second thing I would say is your attitude and how you look at treatment is going to determine a lot for you,” Decker shared. “The more positive you can be and the more you can say ‘We’re going to come up with a plan with my doctors and nurses and we’re going to fight this,’ the better off you will be.”

3.      Don’t Stop What You’re Doing

“My third piece of advice is don’t stop doing what you’re doing today,” Decker said. “There will be times where you’re not going to feel great from chemo or surgery, but live every day you can to the fullest. Especially when you feel healthy. I think that’s really important for your psyche.”

Podcast Episode: Phil’s Colon Cancer Story Pt. 4

Colon cancer survivor and awareness advocate Phil Decker returns to the podcast to give an update on his treatment, reflect on his cancer journey so far and share his future plans to raise awareness.

 

Continuing to Raise Awareness

Decker may now be NED, but he’s just getting started with his mission to raise awareness and save lives in our community. He’s going to run the New York City Marathon in November while raising money for the Livestrong Foundation and plans to host a golf tournament fundraiser in August. While his efforts have made an immediate impact in the Cedar Rapids community, he has long-term goals for the Tell 5 Friends Foundation.

“We’re looking to build something that lasts hopefully far longer than I’m here,” he shared. “We want to make an impact on Linn County, and then Iowa, and then hopefully further from there.”

His main aspiration is to increase the colonoscopy rate.

“Right now, we’re between 70 and 75 percent in Linn County. Nothing would make me happier than if we were sitting at 90 percent in 10 years and if we can help cancer patients along the way.”

Get Screened as Soon as You’re Eligible

Decker, 47, is able to call himself a survivor today in large part because of new screening guidelines released in May 2021 by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which lowered the recommended age patients should start screening for colon cancer from 50 to 45. Had those guidelines not been updated, Decker likely would have never had a screening colonoscopy, as he was not experiencing any symptoms. His story is a true testament to the importance of screening as soon as you are eligible and not putting it off.

“You can get screened at 45,” shared Decker. “Or if you have a first degree relative who was diagnosed, you can get screened at an age 10 years younger than when they were diagnosed. For example, if your parent was diagnosed at 39, you could start screening at 29.”

If you are 45 years or older, or have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor today about screening colonoscopy or call St. Luke’s Gastroenterology at (319) 366-8695.

Podcast Episode: Colon Cancer Screening

Dr. Douglas Purdy, St. Luke’s Gastroenterologist, joins Dr. Arnold to discuss colon cancer signs and symptoms, the importance of screening, how to reduce your risk and more.

Face Cancer with Confidence

If you’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer, or any type of cancer, the Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help you face cancer with confidence. Call us today at (319) 558-4876 or visit communitycancercenter.org to learn more about treatment and support services.

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