Lee: Hi, Dot, welcome to the show, thank you so much for joining me. How are you?
Dot O’Shea: I am well, Lee, thank you for having me.
Lee: I feel like I’m talking to a TV star.
Dot O’Shea: Oh, shucks. I’m blushing.
Lee: So, for those, I think a lot of people who are listening once we make the connection, they’ll go oh, so for those who are very involved in the colon cancer community, how long ago was the NBC news story?
Dot O’Shea: Two months, I think.
Lee: Yeah, I was going to say two, three months ago. So, we knew that NBC Nightly News was going to be doing a story on Cologuard, and I made a point of stopping what I was doing to watch it, and then when you and I got introduced, and I saw the clip, I’m like, I remember her. She was the start of that story. So, tell us, first off, your backstory and how this all came to be. How you came to be diagnosed with stage one colon cancer
Dot O’Shea: Alright, so last August, I turned fifty. When I went for my physical to my general practitioner in September, she told me I needed to go for a colonoscopy, because hey, what’s better to do when you turn fifty than go for a colonoscopy. I was resistant, and I had seen a pamphlet for something called Cologuard in the waiting room. I asked her if I could do that instead and she said no, you need to go for a colonoscopy. Handed me a list of doctors, and I went on my merry way. Well, I’m fifty years old, so that puts me at risk, but I’m also a very active female. I’m very fit, I’m not overweight, I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years, I quit smoking fifteen years ago, my only risk factor for colon cancer is my age. I decided that you know, maybe if I spoke to one of the gastroenterologists that she had given me the name of, perhaps we could work something else out. Like I said, not going for the colonoscopy, but I have a friend who had been diagnosed with colon cancer in June. He kept pushing me, pushing me, pushing me. So, I went to see a gastroenterologist and asked him about my screening options. I told him flat out that I wasn’t going to do a colonoscopy. He said, well there’s this test, there’s that test, and there’s this new DNA test called Cologuard. I think you’d be a perfect candidate for it, because, you know, you’re at a very low risk of having colon cancer. I think he told me my lifetime risk of getting colon cancer was only 4%. He prescribed the test to me, and a couple of weeks later I got a kit in the mail, followed the instructions, shipped the kit off, and about a week or two after that, my doctor called me and told me that my fancy DNA kit came back positive. At that point he’s like, like I said, your lifetime risk of getting colon cancer is only 4% but I think after this positive result, it’s a really good idea for you to come in for the colonoscopy. So I scheduled it for January. I wanted to get through the holiday season without that on my mind. I went in in January, I had a colonoscopy, and he told me that they found a tumor. The next week was kind of a blur. I had the colonoscopy on a Monday, I went back in for a CAT scan on Wednesday, which is when he told me officially that I had colon cancer. I met with a surgeon that afternoon. I had to go in for a sigmoidoscopy on a Thursday because the tumor was so small that it didn’t show on the CAT scan, so I got my first tattoo that day so the surgeon could find the tumor when he did the surgery. Friday, I had pretty much the day off, I went in for a consult with the surgeon, we were going to do the surgery the next Friday. I got home that afternoon, the surgeon’s office called me, told me they had a cancellation on Tuesday, would I like to come in for my surgery then? So, I did. So, I had a laparoscopic ball resection, where they took out my sigmoid colon. I was in the hospital for about two days after that. Now I’m a six month survivor.
Dot O’Shea: Thank you.
Lee: That’s the word we all want to hear. So, a vegetarian for thirty years, quit smoking fifteen years ago, what was your reaction when you heard those words, “you have cancer?”
Dot O’Shea: I was pretty stunned. On top of everything else, I’m the first person in my family with colon cancer. It was just really amazing to me, but on the bright side, I had a friend who kept pushing me to get screened, I did get screened when I was fifty, and they caught it wicked early.
Lee: So it was staged at what?
Dot O’Shea: Stage 1-A. As my oncologist says, if you’re going to have cancer, that’s the kind you want.
Lee: What was the treatment that was prescribed for you?
Dot O’Shea: Surgery.
Lee: Just the surgery?
Dot O’Shea: Just the surgery.
Lee: You’re one of the lucky ones.
Dot O’Shea: Yeah, yeah, because, I mean my surgeon was awesome. He took out seventeen lymph nodes and all of them came back negative.
Lee: So you really were caught early. Wow.
Dot O’Shea: Yes.
Lee: So, what did you have to say to your buddy John after all this?
Dot O’Shea: Thank you for being my guardian angel and saving my life. He tears up every time I say that though, so I try not to say it too often.
Lee: Oh, okay. So, let’s go back a little bit. What was the motivating factor for you to become a vegetarian when you were younger?
Dot O’Shea: Well back in, I think it was the 1980’s there was this show on called 20/20, and they were always doing these exposes. They did one on the meat industry, and they showed a slaughterhouse and how not to be gross but how they were slaughtering the cows, and they’d slit open the stomach and all the fecal matter would go all over everything, and how the meat you buy in the grocery could be contaminated, so I stopped eating beef. Then they did one on chicken where they were cutting tumors off the chickens and packaging them for sale so I’m like okay, no more chicken. Then, I developed a shellfish allergy so fish was pretty much out of the question. That’s how I became a vegetarian.
Lee: It took you another fifteen years to give up smoking.
Dot O’Shea: It did. I don’t know if you’ve ever smoked, anyone listening, who is a smoker or former smoker will be familiar with going to the doctor, and the doctor will tell you oh, you need to quit smoking, you’re going to get cancer, you’re going to get heart disease, you’re going to get this, you’re going to get that. You just kind of tune it out, and I switched doctors about fifteen years ago, and for the first time I went to see her, we talked about smoking. She’s like listen, I know it’s really hard to quit, but if you want to, I can help you; that just made me think. Wow, she didn’t lecture me; she’s offering me her assistance to quit. About a month after that, I went in and we discussed it. She gave me a prescription for; I think it was called Wellbutrin. I took that for a couple of months, I quit smoking, and I haven’t looked back since.
Dot O’Shea: Thank you.
Lee: Let me back up. How were you the one chosen to be the face of Cologuard on this NBC Nightly News story?
Dot O’Shea: Well, on the NBC one, I’m on Facebook, and I follow the Colon Cancer Alliance Facebook Page. They had posted something about Cologuard, I left them feedback saying that it pretty much saved my life. I was diagnosed with stage one, I had successful surgery, and that was it. A couple of days after that, they reached out to me and said we’re looking for someone to speak to the media, if you’re willing, contact this person. So I reached out to them, someone from NBC contacted me after that and that’s how I ended up on NBC Nightly News.
Lee: Were you nervous?
Dot O’Shea: A little bit. I had done a spot previously for one of our local news stations up here in Boston. So, I was kind of used to the whole tv thing, but it was funny getting some feedback. You know, people that I knew previously who’ve moved all over the country, I think the furthest one away was in California. They said hey, I saw you on TV.
Lee: I guess I should direct my comment to our listeners. No story goes more than two or three minutes. I imagine it was a whole lot longer than two or three minutes of shooting and putting this all together. What was that like?
Dot O’Shea: They got here at 5:30 in the morning. They did some outside shots of the neighborhood and stuff, and they came into the house at 6:00, and they left at 10:00. So, they were filming pretty much for four and a half hours.
Lee: For about 60-90 seconds of TV airtime, wow.
Dot O’Shea: Yes.
Lee: One of the things that I thought was so inspiring, and those who follow The Colon Cancer Podcast know from my own personal journey how much of an advocate I am for exercise. There was a wonderful shot of you running down the street, and it appears that was not your first run, that you’ve been doing this for some time.
Dot O’Shea: I have. I really started getting into running when I was about 48 or 49. I mean, I used to walk, everywhere. A friend of mine asked me to sign up for an obstacle race with her. It was called the Diva Dash, it’s not one of those Tough Runners or Spartans or anything that extreme. I did it, and I just got a great deal of satisfaction out of it, especially like climbing over the pile of tires and stuff. It’s something I’ve never done before, and I’m like, wow, I’m actually capable of this. It was just such a feeling of empowerment.
Lee: How much of a break did you have to take during your treatment before you were able to start exercising again?
Dot O’Shea: My doctor cleared me for exercise about six weeks after the surgery, which was about two weeks after I went back to work. It’s funny, I got on a treadmill at the gym, and I’m like, well my warm up speed is three miles an hour. I’ll just walk at that. My first time on it, I got on, I set it at three miles an hour, and I’m like, you know what? This seems a little fast. Let me just back that down to two miles an hour. I kept at it, and I increased it about ten percent every week, so come May I was back to running. So, it took me a while but I got there.
Lee: Good for you. How has this whole process changed you, Dot?
Dot O’Shea: Oh, my goodness. Well, I spent a lot of time talking to the media, and doing podcasts, and anything I can to get the word out about early detection, and about how there are options. If you’re like me, and you don’t want to go for the colonoscopy, that’s fine. You’ve got to do something to get yourself screened. It is just, there’s no reason not to. The test I took, I didn’t have to do any kind of prep. I basically just went to the bathroom and then took a box down to the UPS store and shipped it off; doesn’t get much easier than that. If you don’t want to drive to the UPS store, you can call and have them come pick it up at your house.
Lee: I often wonder when you fill out the packing slip and they say, there’s that blank line that says contents.
Dot O’Shea: You don’t even have to fill out a slip; they have the return shipping label on there. I don’t even know what they put on there for contents.
Lee: Yeah. Little bit of warp colon humor.
Dot O’Shea: Yes. I find I talk about poop a lot more these days.
Lee: Don’t we all, don’t we all. So, let’s wrap up. Let’s talk a little bit about, what words of advice do you have for those folks who are struggling to get their friends and family members screened?
Dot O’Shea: The first thing you need to realize is that early detection is wonderful. Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. It’s a major life event, but it’s curable, the earlier it’s caught the more curable it is. There are people in organizations out there that will offer you support. They have resources available to you. You just have to do it. You’ve got to get screened. If you do have cancer, it’s not necessarily, what’s the word I’m looking for, here? Like I said, it’s not a death sentence.
Lee: You and I are living proof of that.
Dot O’Shea: Yes.
Lee: Well, Dot, thank you so much for taking a little bit of time to share your story and inspiring other folks. I want to wish you continued good health, first and foremost, so six month survivor. Look forward to seeing a post online, celebrating your one year, and then your two, and then your three. Thank you for all that you’re doing to really help spread the message of early detection, because just like your friend John, by pushing you, saved your life, clearly there are people out there whose lives are being saved by you.
Dot O’Shea: Thanks, Lee. It’s great talking to you.
Lee: You, too. You take care.
Dot O’Shea: You, too. Bye bye.