A local cancer survivor is working hard to spread awareness about colorectal cancer with a certain message that he feels saved his life -- No matter how embarrassing or trivial one's symptoms may be, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and Corfu resident Walt Kolmetz is helping to publicize the importance of screening for the disease. He'll be featured on WNED-TV tomorrow at 9 p.m. (Monday, March 28) with another showing on April 11 on ThinkBright and Well TV, also at 9 p.m.
Kolmetz told The Batavian about his personal journey, which started when he applied for a new job. He went through a physical and found out he had high blood pressure.
“I’ve always been in good shape and an athlete, so I thought it was weird and went to my doctor,” he said.
His doctor, whose also a friend, prescribed medicine to try and lower the numbers and asked to see him again in a month. But his blood pressure was still quite high.
“At that point, I mentioned to my doctor that I’d been noticing traces of blood in my stool,” he said. “Yeah, it’s embarrassing but I figured I should just let him know.”
Kolmetz’s doctor suggested that even though he was 41, he should have a colonoscopy done.
“You know, they say you don’t need to get a colonoscopy until you’re 50. Doctors and insurance companies and all of them say it,” Kolmetz said. “Well, if we had waited until I was 50 I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
He found out about his tumor the day of the test. It was a stage two tumor that was developing into a stage three. The doctor walked into the room, gave the bad news and left.
Kolmetz and his wife, Lisa, didn’t know what to do. They contacted Roswell Hospital and were told to expect a phone call with more information. Then, using a few contacts and friends he made during his days as a paramedic, Kolmetz called some people in the medical field to recommend where he should go.
He ended up going to Buffalo General Hospital to see Dr. Mamauhod Kuylat. Within one week, he was on the operating table having his tumor removed.
“Technically, you’re cancer free once the tumor is removed but chemotherapy and radiation are (used) to make sure there isn’t one cell left with the cancer in it,” Kolmetz explained.
He went through the arduous treatment while continuing to work. He recalls the difficulty he had dealing with a colostomy bag.
“It was hell,” he said. “And no one knew how to help. The doctors, nurses and even my at-home nurse just didn’t know.”
Kolmetz remembered that his greatest fear was the possibility of having a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. He remembers having seriously painful rashes and embarrassing moments.
“There should be some kind of support group or informational group for people who have to deal with colostomy bags,” he said. “I’d be more than willing to be involved because I can tell you firsthand that there’s a real need for a group like this.”
Although it was an awful 21 weeks, Kolmetz says it's all worth it for the opportunity to see his kids grow up and to enjoy this life as much as he can. He only hopes that his survival story can help others take charge of their health.
“I feel obligated because I’ve been blessed,” he said. “Even though I went through a lot with this, I need to try and enlighten people to say ‘Hey, just talk to your doctor, your body is trying to tell you things and don’t be embarrassed.'”