WALTER readers are inspired to act after the tech entrepreneur told her health story in our pages—here’s what they told us.
Written by Ayn-Monique Klahre | Photography by Eamon Queeney
After receiving a colon cancer diagnosis in the spring of 2019, tech entrepreneur Brooks Bell stepped back from her job to recover. But by the fall, with treatment under way, she’d found a new purpose: to spread awareness about the preventability of the cancer and specifically about the one test needed to diagnose it: a colonoscopy. Bell’s health issues drove her to create 50 Colonoscopies Under 50, a nonprofit to encourage people to get tested and to raise money for colorectal cancer research. “When I was leading my firm, the best part was knowing I was creating opportunities and careers for my team. I was proud of the economic impact my firm had on our local community,” says Bell. “However, that feeling pales in comparison to knowing I may have saved someone’s life. This is why I am motivated to spend my efforts and energy on colorectal cancer prevention over the next decade.”
In our December issue, Bell shared her story. This February 28, Bell will host her first Colonoscopy Gala, a fun and cheeky (pun intended) evening to raise money and awareness for the cause. “I wanted to honor young people who were brave enough to talk about their colonoscopies publicly, and do so in a positive light,” says Bell.
Click here for tickets to the Colonoscopy Gala on February 28, 2020 at CAM Raleigh.
When we hopped on the phone with Bell to learn more about the gala, she also told us how the story we ran prompted a few readers to take action on their health. Folks reached out to Bell directly, without knowing her at all, to thank her for sharing her story and potentially saving their lives. “I have been thrilled with the response to the story so far,” says Bell. “Whenever I hear that someone got a colonoscopy because of me—AND found precancerous polyps—it makes all my efforts worth it.”
Two of these people have agreed to share their stories with us, in the hopes that it may prompt others to take action, too. Here’s what they told us.
Mark Appleby, 40
Basically, back in August I started noticing some blood when I’d use the restroom, and stupidly I ignored it, thinking it was probably a hemorrhoid. I’d had other buddies who’d experience them, and I chalked it up to that.
But as the the symptoms persisted, my anxiety started to heighten, and I wondered if it was something different—if it was time for a professional diagnosis instead of just Googling it. I came home from work one evening and there was a copy of WALTER on the counter, and I saw the headline. I’d know from afar about Brooks’ battle with cancer, so I picked it up. Well, I got through the first two paragraphs and I was sick to my stomach: Her experience, her thought process, the symptoms—I thought, this sounds a whole lot like me.
I picked up the phone and called my brother-in-law in Greensboro, he’s a gastroenterologist. It was the week before Christmas and it was slow in his office, so he got me in three days later. I traveled out there for the colonoscopy, which was a first for me, it wasn’t something I thought I’d need to do at 40, that’s also why I dismissed it, because 50 is when you start to do that. So I went in and had it, it took about 25 minutes—and fortunately my brother-in-law didn’t do it, his colleague did, because I’ve got to sit across from this guy at Thanksgiving!
After the procedure, my attending doctor informed me that they’d removed five polyps, one of which was very large and bleeding—that’s what was responsible for the blood I’d been seeing. They told me they’d removed them and sent them off for biopsies. When they said they’d “expedite the delivery of the results,” well, that took my breath away. That was a Thursday. It was a long, grueling weekend, and I got a call on Monday afternoon. Thankfully, all five were benign, but my brother-in-law told me very matter-of-factly that if I had waited even another month or two, we might have been having a very different conversation.
So now I’m considered high risk, and I have to go and get a colonoscopy every three years. But that’s a minor inconvenience when you consider your health. I’m extremely grateful, I consider it divine intervention that I saw the magazine and took the time to read it. I’m so thankful that Brooks had the courage to tell her story, it’s not easy to open up in graphic detail, but had she not done that, and had I not stumbled onto the article, I would not have taken the time to get a colonoscopy.
And from that point on, I haven’t been bashful. I’ve been very candid about my experience with anyone who’s willing to listen. I don’t want people to make the same mistake I did—if you suspect something is wrong, know that the procedure itself is nothing, it’s the best 20-minute nap I’ve ever had. The prep is not great, but you’re carving out a few hours of your life to possibly save it. So I’m shouting it from the rooftops: Don’t use Google to diagnose yourself, it’s very treatable and manageable if you get ahead of it. I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt: I have two small kids and a family, I’m just being dumb, how could I just accept those symptoms and not raise my hand? I’m just lucky, there’s no doubt about that, that the article pushed me to finally get some answers. There’s no stopwatch on when those polyps could have turned into cancer, I’m just glad to be one of the lucky ones.
Chris Frushone, 50
I was reading WALTER back in December, and even though I didn’t know Brooks Bell personally, I knew her name. I had just turned 50, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I had thought about getting a colonoscopy, but even if it were paid for, my feeling was, ugh I have to drink this stuff, it’s going to be painful, and I don’t have any symptoms.
But I read the article and thought: here’s a young, successful businesswoman in the prime of her life, and she just stuck her neck out there and published an article about it—it’s time to put my big boy pants on! I worry about my kids’ health, about my wife’s health, about my parents’ health—and I try to stay healthy, I go to the gym—but I don’t spend time worrying about my own health. So I called my doctor to schedule an appointment, and it turned out I hadn’t been there since 2014, and after three years you’re not a patient anymore, and, by the way, my doctor is retiring and they’re not taking any new patients, so I had to find a new doctor.
But I did it, I found a new doctor, and now I’m scheduled for a physical and to get a colonoscopy. Brooks’ article inspired my wife, Laura (50), too, she called her doctor and now she’s scheduled to go in March. And just overall, now it’s something we’re talking about; we’d never really talked about our health before. I mean, my wife gives me heck when I eat red meat, we eat organic, there is no processed food in our house. I’m good friends with Scott Crawford and he’s always telling me to try the vegetarian options. I’ll even snack on radishes in the refrigerator.
But reading about someone in Raleigh, who’s a real person, makes me feel like—if she can go ahead and do this, why can’t I? She and her husband work out at the same gym I do, I know him to wave hi, but now I’m talking to people at the gym about the story. She’s real, she’s a prominent business figure who’s willing to talk about poop—heck, we can all do it.
It was that opening line—she didn’t have time to be sick—that resonated with me. No one has time to go to the doctor. When I learned I hadn’t been since 2014, six years ago, it made me wonder what could be happening because I put my health on the back seat. I’m not going to do that now. We’re getting physicals; we’re talking about polyps. Our health is dinner conversation now.
P.S. Bell will be giving a free “Colonoscopy Enthusiast” t-shirt to anyone who commits to wearing it in public, and helping her start (slightly awkward) conversations about the awesomeness of colonoscopies. If you want to receive one and be part of this movement, just sign up at CheckOutMyAss.org.