Siblings With Colon Cancer See Genetic Link
Prevention & Treatment Siblings who were both diagnosed with colon cancer are questioning a genetic link and encouraging others at risk to get tested for the disease.
During a routine checkup, Tonya Dennis’ doctor recommended she get a colonoscopy. Colon cancer rates are higher in African Americans and Dennis had a family history; her grandmother had colon cancer when she was in her sixties.
Dennis, now 51, underwent the procedure in 2011. She was surprised to learn she had a rectal tumor and was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer. Dennis had radiation, surgery and a temporary colostomy bag, which was later removed, and chemotherapy.
“I’ve been cancer-free and it’s been four years since my last chemo treatment,” says Dennis, who’s married with two children and lives in South Carolina.
Dennis’ doctors urged her to have other family members tested. That meant her brother, Reverend Roland Cooper in New Jersey, needed to get checked. But Cooper, now age 49, was dealing with heart disease at the time, so he waited to get tested. Then when he had a colonoscopy, results showed Stage 2 colon cancer.
“I was thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’” says Cooper, who had surgery to remove the cancer, but also had heart complications and had to be revived two times during the procedure. After treatment, including six months of chemo, the married father of two has been in remission for a few years.
“We cannot stress enough how important it is to get tested,” says Cooper, who, like his sister, never had cancer symptoms. Nowadays, the siblings are fighting the stigma of cancer by talking about it in the community and within their family.
“It’s like a big secret, but it shouldn’t be,” Dennis says. “If we’re related by blood, we should know Uncle Joe died of colon cancer or Aunt Mary died of breast cancer.”