FRIDAY, Sept. 24, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Lee Smith of Marietta, Ga., set himself up with an unusual 50th birthday gift: He scheduled a colonoscopy for a couple of days later.
One of his uncles had died of colon cancer, and his father had died of leukemia when Smith was just 3 years old. "I always had it in my mind that, when I turned 50, I would do this because of my family history," he said.
While he was recovering after the procedure, the doctor came in with some shocking news.
"They found around 75 precancerous polyps, which is an enormous number," Smith, now 51, said. "I was certainly surprised. It was a scary thing. What happened to my father was a lot of the emotional part of this. I grew up without a father, and so the last thing I wanted to do was have my kids grow up without a father."
Doctors usually can remove polyps found during a colonoscopy, making it one of the best cancer-prevention techniques around. But they couldn't remove that many, Smith recounted. He said that he and his doctor began talking that very day about major surgery to remove part of his colon.
A few weeks later, Smith returned for the surgery. "The polyps were not all over my colon, but were concentrated in certain areas," he said. "They cut out two-thirds of my colon, and then reconnected the two ends."
The surgery went fine, he said, but recuperating took a lot of time, starting with an eight-day hospital stay after the surgery. "Basically they shut your system down, and then they have to restart it again," he said. "They have to be convinced that the system is all working again before they will let you go home."
He then spent several months at home fully healing from the surgery. "I've got a 12-inch scar on my belly where they opened me up," he said. "It's very painful, even with the drugs, because of the place of the incision."
But, he added with a chuckle, "it only hurts when you move."
Radiation and chemotherapy were not part of his treatment, Smith said, because the polyps were detected so early. And he remains cancer free.
"I've had one colonoscopy since then," he said. "I had one or two polyps, and they took them out, and everything's fine."
Smith said he considers his colonoscopy and surgery "a case study in preventive medicine."
"If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't be here," he said. "I'm healthy. I'm exercising. The good news in all of this is we caught it early and I'll get to see my kids grow up, which I definitely would not have been able to do otherwise," Lee added.
"I really do consider myself blessed because we found this thing early and cut it out," he said.