I began a new career as a registered nurse at Altru Health System in October 2008. I started at Altru’s Endoscopy Center. Within two weeks, I had personal family knowledge of the importance of screening colonoscopy for people when they turn 50.
Did you get your colonoscopy?
I checked with my mom, Eileen, to see if she and my stepdad, Jim Forsberg, both 60, had their screening colonoscopies when they turned 50. She said they had had flexible sigmoidoscopy two years ago. While I was glad they had it done, I explained it didn’t give a complete look at the colon, as there is two to three feet of colon that isn’t seen during that procedure. I recommended they make appointments for colonoscopies, and mom assured me they would, as soon as they returned from winter in Surprise, AZ.
Jim had complained of pain on his right side for a few months, and was doctoring with his family physician for a few months. Jim attributed the abdominal pain to medication he was on. Shortly after arriving in Arizona in November, the pain increased and Jim went to an emergency clinic for an assessment. It was determined his gallbladder needed to be removed. When the surgeons began, they saw large tumors throughout the liver, pinching off the gallbladder and continuing onto the diaphragm. They took the gallbladder out and closed up Jim. Our family’s life was forever changed.
When the initial shock of a Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis set in, our focus became hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst. The oncologist said with treatment, Jim could have up to two years to live due to his good health. A port was placed and chemotherapy began.
As time passed, Jim seemed to wither away before our very eyes. When they flew home at Christmas, Jim had gone from 169 pounds to 146. When we saw him again in March, he had lost another 20 pounds. It was during this visit that he visited with his primary physician. While we’re all responsible for our own health, Jim told his physician he felt he had “dropped the ball” by not encouraging a colonoscopy when Jim turned 50. Jim said he might be facing death now, and that he didn’t want any other patients to have to go through this.
I flew to Arizona to be with mom and Jim for one last vacation. He was frail, but was still excited for the visit. He’d purchased a golf cart to get around their retirement complex – a “bucket list” item, according to mom.
In May, Mom and Jim came back to Grand Forks. At just 127 pounds, he began care at Altru Cancer Center. Family gathered to celebrate his 65th birthday on May 30. After a stay in the hospital for pain and dehydration, we made the decision with Jim’s oncologist to take him home with Altru’s Hospice.
On a beautiful evening in June, surrounded by family, Jim left us and took his journey to heaven. It had only been seven months from his diagnosis.
It wasn’t until his funeral that I truly understood what a wonderful man my stepdad had been. Jim changed many people’s lives by always being there for them, or simply offering a cup of coffee and a laugh. No matter the time or day, they could call Jim. My stepdad owned Forsberg Motors Car Lot for 15 years and helped countless people jump their vehicle, pull them out of a ditch or give them a ride home.
Jim became my stepdad, but he also became my best friend. He always came to my rescue when things went wrong. He was the greatest grandpa in the world, coming up with fun things to do with his granddaughters. It was never boring at Grandpa Jim’s. He made every day a holiday with his happy, go lucky, positive attitude.
Life after Cancer
I continue to work at Altru’s Endoscopy Center and encourage people to schedule their screening colonoscopy when they turn 50, or earlier if there’s family history. Prevention is key when it comes to colon cancer. Every time a diagnosis of colon cancer is given to one of our patients, I think of the horrible, life-changing news our family received six years ago. Could a screening colonoscopy have prevented this?
I remember talking with my stepsister, Jami, after Jim’s diagnosis and was shocked when she told me she had had a large polyp removed at the age of 29. She was told to inform her family members that colon cancer could run in the family and to encourage early screening. Jami said she told Jim, but that he discredited it as a “female problem.” If only he had understood a little more, we may not have said goodbye so soon.
Have you or someone close to you experienced colon cancer? Please share your story here.
Shari Reynolds loves her job as a registered nurse at Altru’s Endoscopy Center. In her free time, she enjoys riding her bike, shopping and spending time with her grandkids.