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posted: 6/30/2010 12:01 AM

Cancer victim touts benefits of testing for colon cancer

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  • Streamwood Park Board Commissioner Rick Brogan talks with Hanover Township Director of Community Health Trish Simon before getting a colonoscopy Tuesday at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Simon, a colon cancer patient, organized a drive to get coworkers tested.

      Streamwood Park Board Commissioner Rick Brogan talks with Hanover Township Director of Community Health Trish Simon before getting a colonoscopy Tuesday at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Simon, a colon cancer patient, organized a drive to get coworkers tested.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
By Ben Geier

Conventional wisdom tells people not to worry about colon health until they are older. Most people don't think about getting a colonoscopy until they are at least 50.

Trish Simon was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer - the most advanced stage - at the age of 32.

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That was four years ago. Simon, who is the director of Community Health for Hanover Township, is still going through treatments. But she is taking her own struggle and using it to help fight the larger battle against colon cancer.

"I use my diagnosis as an educational tool," she said. "I don't want anyone to go through what I'm going through."

Simon said that preventive measures were her main focus in spreading knowledge about colon cancer. She noted that colon cancer was a completely preventable disease, but that people did not do enough try to catch it early on.

"I want to take a preventive approach, rather than crisis management all of the time."

One step toward helping prevention was a "colonoscopy challenge" Simon helped host on Tuesday. Six local government officials had colonoscopies performed at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. A seventh, Cook County board member Tim Schneider, a Bartlett resident, was scheduled to have a colonoscopy but had to cancel due to a last minute scheduling conflict. He plans to reschedule his procedure.

"I'm really glad (Trish) talked me into it, because I always put stuff off," said Streamwood Park Board Commissioner Rick Brogan shortly before his procedure.

The "Colonoscopy Challenge" is just a start, though. Simon and her husband - who has also gone through a cancer diagnosis - are in the infancy stages of creating the Trisha Lynn Simon Foundation, which will be dedicated to fighting colon cancer and promoting preventive measures and colon health.

Simon is not shy about her lofty hopes for the burgeoning foundation, saying she wants it to be "the next Susan Komen Foundation, for colon cancer." Susan G. Komen For the Cure, formerly called the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, was founded in the early 1980s and raises money for breast cancer research.

For the short term, Simon is focused on her own community, and on helping people get screenings who might not be able to without her assistance. Coloscopies are recommended at age 50, unless there is a family history or risk factors which suggest them at a younger age.

Within the next few months, Simon is hoping to announce a program that will provide free colonoscopies to people who are uninsured or underinsured. She is getting help in this endeavor from Dr. Brian Muska, a doctor at St. Alexius. who also performed all of the screenings on Tuesday.

"I'm talking about those that are high risk," she said about the goals of the new program. "Before it gets to a stage that it should never get to."

Dr. Muska said that insurance companies can make screening difficult for some people.

"Insurances are very mixed as far as coverage for these types of problems," he said. "We're looking into getting people screened who are in those types of gaps."

Simon's tireless efforts have already helped one of her co-workers.

Pam Brandes talked to Simon after receiving a recommendation from a doctor to have a colonoscopy due to a family history of polyps. Brandes did not want to have the procedure, but ended up relenting on the advice of Simon and others. She was diagnosed with colon cancer and is undergoing treatment.

Brandes said that in the aftermath of her diagnosis, she feels differently about the importance of preventive medicine and that a colonoscopy wasn't "as bad as I thought it was going to be."

Streamwood Park District Commissioner Bill Wright was challenged by Brogan to get a colonoscopy on Tuesday with a classic "you do it, I do it." He was hoping that he could help Simon move even a step closer to her goal.

"If it causes two people to come and do it and it saves their life, then that's worth it," he said.

Whatever comes of her various efforts to combat colon cancer, Simon seems steadfast in her devotion to keep the fight going, rather than letting her situation get the best of her.

"We've definitely had our share of ups and downs, but we've always stayed positive," she said. "That's the only way I can deal with it."

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