PANAMA CITY- Tom Lewis keeps a grueling schedule. When he hit 50, 5-years ago, he didn't slow down. He also didn't schedule an important medical screening, recommended for all 50-year olds, a colonoscopy.
"I don't know why I put it off but I did and it was probably the worst thing I could have done,” said Tom.
During an appointment this April, for a totally unrelated issue, one of tom's doctor's found a problem.
"I went to the doctor, my urologist for a urinary tract issue and he goes you know you have a hernia. I’m ... No I didn't know I had a hernia. Let's send you to the GI doctor and see if they want to repair it while you're there why don't you have the colonoscopy, have you ever had one or when was the last time you had one? Never had one. Well you need one, you should have had one 5 years ago. So that's how it happened. I went to get a colonoscopy and they found cancer.”
That's not unusual. Many people who have colon cancer never show any symptoms. Most cases begin as small, noncancerous polyps. Some can grow into full blown cancer but a colonoscopy allows doctors to remove those polyps before that happens.
"If I'd had it done when I was 50, they probably would have found the polyp that caused my cancer, snipped it out and I never would have had to go through this."
The next stop on Tom's journey was Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
"They saw the mass very easily with first of all the colonoscopy second the ct scan. Third pet scan. So they all saw the mass there. The question was how serious was it what kind of cancer was it. So after my surgery and they did the biopsies on the section of colon they took out. They realized the type cancer I had was very aggressive. It was a stage two is what they're calling it but it was close to a stage three. But the cancer had developed as a polyp, the polyp had attached to the inside of my colon, had eaten through the first layer had eaten through the second layer, eaten through the third layer, and actually eaten through the outside wall the fourth layer and attached itself to the outside of the colon wall.”
So why is tom being so open about, what for many, would be a private matter?
"This was a life changing experience for me. I came out of this and I said you know, I’ve gotten a second chance here. By virtue of what I do for a living I have a pulpit up here if you will and if I don't use that to at least get that message to people to help some people then I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do and I’m not taking advantage of that second chance. So I’ve made it my mission from here on out to do what I can to help the Cancer Society spread that message to say go get your test done, just go get the test done there's no excuse.”
And not just colonoscopies, Tom's also encouraging people to schedule prostate screenings and mammograms. Every doctor will tell you early detection is the key.
It's usually tough to slow Tom down but his recent bout with colon cancer stopped him in his tracks. After undergoing major surgery to remove a tumor, then 5-week's recovery time, doctors decided tom should undergo chemotherapy as a precaution.
Tom's doctors and his surgeon were confident they got all of the cancerous matter inside of his colon, and that it had not spread to his lymph nodes but they couldn't bee 100% sure.
"Because it had gotten outside my colon. They were afraid there may be a few rogue cells floating around in my body and they want to make sure that the chemo takes that out."
We caught up with Tom on his first day of chemo at the Tommy Hamm Cancer Center in Panama City.
"Obviously a little apprehensive because I don't know what to expect here. They've put the port here in my shoulder which was done a couple of weeks ago and they have an IV line they just put in a few minutes ago. That's how they will deliver the chemo chemicals into my body.”
Tom's chemo regimen starts on Monday morning.
"I will come in every other Monday... So today's my first Monday -- I’ll be off next Monday and then the following Monday I will come back in."
After the four hours of treatment at the facility Tom is sent home with a pump.
"I'll be pumped with the chemo chemicals for two days so I’ll come back in at noon on Wednesday and they'll take me off the pump.. then I’m freed up until the next treatment in two weeks so I find it very hard to believe that they're going to put enough chemicals in a little bitty pump to last two days so must be pretty potent stuff.”
Also flowing through the IV is anti-nausea medication.
“I've got pills at home that they've given me that I will probably start tomorrow so I mean I think today if there is gonna be any nausea or anything like that .. I probably won't see it today... it'll be tomorrow.”
Tom carries on his tough schedule with the pump attached hoping none of the adverse side affects kick in.
"The question is what happens next. I really don't know, some people get sick, nausea.. some people will lose their hair. They're telling me I probably won't get sick and I won't lose my hair. It will get thin but I will get fatigued and with the kind of schedule I keep- that's a concern.”
Tom says the pump itself isn't a big deal.
"That's not so bad --it's kind of one of those goofy fanny packs you know -- I refuse to wear that.. so I’m gonna come up with this ace bandage that will run up my thigh and a little pocket that I can plug it into. That way it's under my suit pants and nobody can see it... Great invention. You know what the hardest part for me.. You can't get this thing wet. I take two showers a day--so twice a day I’m finding a way to hang this thing outside the shower and do what I have to do but that's the biggest inconvenience.”
With the first treatment behind him, Tom chooses to look ahead.
"I've got eleven more to go. You can do the math. That’s half a year, six months.. I’m choosing not to look at it as six months. I'm choosing to look at it as 12 treatments. I've got one down and 11 to go."
Tom completed treatment number 2 Wednesday.