HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (March 7, 2022) If you are friends with Russell Dykes on social media and it gets close to your 45th birthday, don’t be offended if he wishes you a “Happy Birthday” and immediately asks if you have scheduled a colonoscopy. It’s not a joke. It’s a reminder that he is vehement about and mentions with the very best of intentions in mind. He ought to know. It was a pre-screening colonoscopy which, more than likely, saved his life just a couple of weeks after his 50th birthday.
Dykes, who has been employed at Forrest Health’s Pine Grove Behavioral Health Services since 1988, is a believer. He went in for his annual Wellness checkup in August 2018 with a reminder that he would be notified to schedule a colonoscopy after he turned 50 in early December. Having long since forgotten about the reminder, he questioned what he was scheduling when the call came. He scheduled the procedure for December 21. When Dykes’ woke up from what he anticipated to be a non-event, the news wasn’t good. A large cancerous tumor had been found in his lower colon.
Dykes, now 53, who had experienced no symptoms, had a very slow-growing non-aggressive form of cancer which had reached Stage 2 status. It was too large and located too low for surgical removal, so in late January 2019 he underwent five-and-a-half weeks of chemotherapy (by pill) and radiation therapy in the hopes it would shrink the tumor.
“Thankfully, therapy worked and the tumor was significantly reduced,” said Dykes, who underwent surgery on April 18, 2019. Because of where the tumor was located, Dykes had to have a temporary ostomy bag put in for about seven weeks. “I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief when I received a follow-up call from my surgeon, Boris Cehajic, MD, who told me my pathology report was clear,” he said. His oncologist, Dr. J. Michael Herrington, at Forrest General’s Cancer Center, did not recommend any more chemotherapy. During the summer months, Dykes had ostomy reversal. “And I’ve been blessed ever since,” he said happily.
At that time, a grateful Dykes said his goal was to be an advocate for pre-screening colonoscopies. “The colonoscopy procedure was so easy,” he said.
During March, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Dykes is particularly vocal, especially on social media, about scheduling a colonoscopy if you are in the 45-year-old age range. His messages have not fallen on deaf ears, but have actually done some good. “I’ve had 15 to 20 friends say, ‘Thanks, I’ve scheduled mine’ or ‘I’m good’ or ‘I’m clear,’” he said. Dykes is appreciative of the doctors who took care of him and wants to make sure others don’t have to go through the same thing.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people without any risk factors should plan to get their first colon cancer screening at age 45 or earlier. For people in good health, a screening should be scheduled every 10 years. Dykes now schedules a colonoscopy every three years.
This month, invite family and friends to “go blue” with you. Blue is the color used to bring awareness to colorectal cancer. On Friday, Forrest General employees were encouraged to wear blue. And Cancer Center employees will be wearing a blue bracelet throughout the month in support of colorectal cancer awareness.
On April 23, Dykes will celebrate three years of being cancer free. And if you’re not friends with him on social media, this is your reminder to schedule a colonoscopy. “Please encourage your friends and loved ones to schedule their colonoscopy now. Life is too precious not to take this step,” he said.
For more information on cancer services, visit www.forrestgeneral.org/cancer.