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One local couple talks up the reasons for colon cancer screenings

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By Erin L. McCoy

What’s the best way to prevent lung cancer? Stop smoking. What’s the best way to prevent colon cancer? Just get tested.

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Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most preventable cancers, but you have to catch it early, said Lisa Sosnin, a registered nurse at Bluegrass Community Family Practice in Bardstown.

Colon cancer awareness is an issue close to Sosnin’s heart. Her father, Jimmie Gardner, died in 1992 of colon cancer. He was 66, and Sosnin is convinced that what may have saved him was an ounce of prevention.

“My family was never sick. I never had any illnesses. My parents never went to the doctor,” she said.

In a letter recalling her father’s illness, Sosnin wrote of her father, “He was a very devoted and loving husband and father. However, he made a critical decision that cost him nearly two years of suffering and finally, his life.”

That decision, Sosnin said, was to assume the cause of rectal bleeding he was experiencing in 1990 was hemorrhoids. He chose not to go to the doctor until the situation worsened in April 1991.

“He just wouldn’t address it until he got so weak,” she said.

Her father underwent a blood transfusion, surgery and months of chemotherapy. He died Aug. 26, 1992.

Sosnin wasn’t a nurse when her father was sick, but she learned a lot about medicine during that time.

“I remembered learning and asking a lot of questions and trying to understand, and always feeling that pull of wanting to be a nurse,” she said.

Now an R.N., Sosnin feels it’s time to talk about what she’s learned about colon cancer with her patients, and the best way to do it is to talk about her own experience.

In the lobby of Bluegrass Community Family Practice, a board outlined in blue — the color of the colon cancer ribbon — provides information on colon cancer in recognition of Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March. Below it, laid out on a blue tablecloth, are pictures of Sosnin’s family, of her father and of his mother, who died of colon cancer in 1981. Sosnin tells her patients their story.

“I thought it would bring a little personal touch, if people understood,” she said.

The reason it’s so important to talk about colon cancer with patients is that many are hesitant to undergo the necessary testing — they’re worried it will be uncomfortable or embarrassing. But the National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign recommends people age 50 or older begin getting regular tests for colon cancer. Risk increases with age, and is also higher if a relative has had colon cancer. People with inflammatory bowel disease or a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis are also at higher risk.

And people are becoming more open to talking about colon cancer and screenings, said Dr. Brian Sosnin, Lisa’s husband.

“People seem to be a lot more relaxed,” he said. What patients should keep in mind, he added, is that “it is preventable, because if you’re screened and a polyp is found it can be removed, and if it’s precancerous it can be removed before it turns cancerous.”

But if you’re still nervous about getting tested, Lisa said, remember that it’s not only your life at stake.

“Do it for your family. Do it for your kids,” she said.

Brian nodded in agreement: “I think that’s a really important thing — to think outside of yourself, because there are people that depend on you.”