Off the 8’s: No ifs, ands or ‘butts’ — get screened

In this December 2011 file photo, WTOP Morning Editor Mike Jakaitis celebrates being cancer-free for five years. Jakaitis will run in the annual Scope it Out 5K Run/Walk for Colon Cancer Awareness March 24 to convince others of the power of a colonoscopy to detect cancer early, when it is most curable. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Mike Jakaitis, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – If things didn’t go right, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. My wife would’ve lost a husband. My family would’ve lost a son and brother. I would not be getting up at midnight to work the editor’s desk during morning drive for WTOP. If I never went to that blood drive in 2006, if I didn’t get a colonoscopy, and most of all, if I didn’t have a very loving wife, things could’ve been a lot different.

That’s why March is a special month for me (besides March Madness, but that’s a separate Off the 8’s blog). March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. And I’m going to tell you why it’s very important to get screened.

My story starts in August 2006. My wife and I decided to donate blood at the annual WTOP/ABC 7 blood drive. During the screening process I was told I could not donate because my blood levels were out of whack. My wife Kellie also noticed I was very tired that summer. She wanted me to go see the doctor, but I refused, so she made the appointment for me. Our primary care physician Dr. Megan Wollman — I owe a lot to her — was very aggressive when she studied my symptoms. Besides my blood work being off, I also had rectal bleeding. Dr. Wollman recommended I get a colonoscopy.

I balked at first, I thought this is something only older people get. I’m glad I didn’t because Nov. 9, 2006 changed my life forever. That was the day I found out I had colon cancer. My gastroenterologist Dr. James Butler found a tumor during the colonoscopy. How could this happen? I’m only 36 years old. I remember practically every single detail from that day. I even remember what I ordered for dinner that night: steamed shrimp and french fries.

I owe a lot to my boss Jim Farley, the vice president of news and programing at WTOP. He is also a colon cancer survivor. I saw him in his office that very day. After talking to him, I knew this wasn’t a death sentence. There’s a good chance everything was going to turn out OK — if the cancer was caught early.

I kept a positive attitude. And the support from my family, friends and colleagues at WTOP was awesome. Everybody was so encouraging. Prior to my surgery, I remember all the phone calls and conversations with Shawn Anderson, Bruce Alan, Mike Moss, Dimitri Sotis, family members and friends. I knew we were going to win this battle. I used the term “we” because I knew I wasn’t in this fight alone.

On Nov. 28, I went into surgery at Georgetown University Hospital. My parents came up from Florida, and my brother and his wife came from Arkansas for support. Dr. Patrick Jackson was my surgeon. He removed a third of my colon, and 19 lymph nodes. I was in the hospital for almost a week.

I saw my oncologist Dr. Jimmy Hwang on Dec. 11 to find out the biopsy results and what course of treatment comes next. My Christmas present came two weeks early: The test on every single lymph node came back negative. That meant my cancer was stage 1-b, which signifies early detection, and I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

I’m one lucky person, and I count my blessings each day. Six years later I’m still going strong. My family, friends and WTOP family have been so supportive. My bosses at WTOP have been great. If I had to see the doctor for any check up, or if I felt something wasn’t right, they told me don’t worry about the shift, go take care of it.

I also want to thank all my colleagues who donated a day of sick or vacation time for me so I wouldn’t miss a paycheck during my recovery. I’ll never forget all the love and support I’ve received and continue to receive today. It means so much. I’ll never forget how the station celebrated my five-year anniversary. ABC 7 did a story on me in January 2007.

Getting a colonoscopy is very important. Please don’t mess around. If you have any kind of bleeding, are feeling lethargic, go see your doctor. Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer, but it’s also the most treatable — if caught early. That’s why you need to get screened. The procedure is not that bad. The prep work is no day at the beach — you have to have your insides cleaned out, but the upside is worth it. I think many would agree, life is a good thing.

This Sunday is the annual Scope It Out 5k Run/Walk in D.C. to benefit colon cancer awareness. The race is hosted by the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation. I am so proud to be helping out Chris4Life. The people working in that organization are so dedicated, especially the foundation’s Executive Director Michael Sapienza, who lost his mother to colon cancer.

If you want to run, register online here. Online registration ends at noon Thursday, and you can also register the day of the race. If you can’t run and want to make a donation go to www.scopeitout5k.com/donate. And if you want to donate under team WTOP — go for it.

Here’s a PSA that’s been airing on TV in the area. You may know “Big Sexy:”

Feel free to ask my anything you want about my story. You can email me at mjakaitis@wtop.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @mjakaitisWTOP.

Thank you EVERYONE. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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Editor’s Note: Off the 8’s is a WTOP Living feature, in which staff inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center share personal stories from their lives.

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