Having worked in the parts department at Rydell Chevrolet for 20 years, Terry Harmon knows the importance of routine maintenance. With a reminder from his older brother, Tom, of his entrance to the “50s club,” Terry made an appointment with internal medicine physician Kirsten Peterson.
“I told Dr. Peterson there were three things I wanted to do – schedule a colonoscopy, have my cholesterol checked and look at my sleeping patterns,” said Terry. “I knew 50 was the age to have a colonoscopy. Tom and I made light of it at the time, but I’m so thankful he encouraged me to do it.”
On Friday, March 29, 2013, Dr. Robin Hape, general surgeon, performed a colonoscopy on Terry at the endoscopy center at Altru Professional Center. Three days later, Dr. Hape called Terry with the results. He had removed seven polyps, as well as a small lesion. The polyps were noncancerous. The lesion was Stage II colorectal cancer.
“Imagine having the rug pulled out from under your normal life,” said Terry. “That’s what it felt like. I was panic-stricken. What was I supposed to do now? Anxiety, emotions, fear – it all came at once.”
Dr. Hape put Terry in touch with his nurse, Robbie Narlock, who helped Terry schedule additional tests and screenings. Everything showed the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else.
“I’ll never forget what Dr. Hape told me after the diagnosis,” said Terry. “He said, ‘I’ll see you through this. You’re my patient through the very end.’ It gave me confidence to proceed with treatment knowing he was by my side.”
Home, Not a Business
When a friend told Terry about his experience at Altru Cancer Center, he said it wouldn’t feel like a business, but rather a big home in the community. That’s exactly what Terry found.
“When you go there every day for months, you build relationships with the doctors, nurses, technicians, everyone,” he said. “They treated me so well.”
One of the first people Terry worked with was oncology research nurse Wanda DeKrey. Wanda enrolled Terry in a clinical trial that consisted of chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously.
“Wanda calmed my nerves and made me less anxious,” said Terry.
Terry also worked closely with radiation oncologist Grant Seeger.
“He is so knowledgeable,” said Terry. “He set the parameters for my radiation treatment and got me through a lot of the symptoms I encountered.”
After almost six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, cancer center nurses celebrated Terry’s last day of treatment before surgery with a cake and mementos.
“It was overwhelming,” he recalled.
Terry recovered for a month before Dr. Hape removed the cancerous part of his colon on June 25.
Dr. Hape will reconnect Terry’s colon early this fall. Terry will then undergo three more months of chemotherapy.
Make the Appointment
When he’s back to full strength, Terry hopes to return to work at Rydell Chevrolet. You can bet he’ll be advocating for his co-workers to schedule their colonoscopies.
“It was a day out of my life that has now saved my life,” he said. “I’m very grateful I went in when I did. I was a healthy 50 year old with no unusual symptoms. No wonder colon cancer is sometimes referred to as the ‘silent killer.’”
“I wake up and feel blessed because I’ve been able to get through all this,” Terry continued. “I feel I have a true friend in Dr. Hape and that he has my back. I get choked up because he’s a true, honest, helpful person, and I know he’ll follow through on this with me.”
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “I’m glad I made that appointment. Otherwise, who knows how long I’d be here.”
Screenings can find precancerous polyps, which when removed, can prevent colorectal cancer. Early detection of colorectal cancer is important, as that is when treatment works best. To schedule your screening at Altru’s Endoscopy Center, call 701.780.6533.
Additional Reading: Apple a Day. Colonoscopy a Decade.