Father and Son Overcome Colorectal Cancer Thanks to Timely Screenings

June 14, 2021

When Don Heddy turned 50 in December 2019, he knew there was one thing he needed to do: schedule a colonoscopy. Like anyone trying to stay on top of their health, he was faithful to that. But he didn’t expect the outcome.

“I always thought the golden rule was to go for a colonoscopy when I turned 50, and a few weeks later in January, I was in the hospital being treated for colon cancer,” Don says.

His prognosis of colorectal cancer was hereditary. His dad, Richard Heddy, a retired high school science teacher, was diagnosed 10 years earlier. Yet unlike Don, Richard was treated at a much later age, being in his 80s when diagnosed. At 90, he watched his 50 year-old son follow in his footsteps down a path no parent would wish for their child.

“My doctor had suggested that all my children have a colonoscopy, but Don was the youngest,” Richard says.

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In Good, Familiar Hands

Both father and son received the same diagnosis at Ocean Medical Center, but there were other similarities.

When Don arrived at Ocean, he was greeted by Thomas Lake, M.D., the same surgeon who treated his father 10 years earlier.

“One of the first things Dr. Lake said was, “How is your dad?” He knew right away who I was,” recalls Don. “That’s when I knew I would be alright. The fact that he treated my father put me more at ease.”

Don says having his father, the survivor, alongside made all the difference in his outcome. “[My dad] helped to keep me positive,” he says.

Radiation and chemotherapy treatments were followed by surgery with Dr. Lake. Since Don’s surgery was 10 years after Richard’s, advances in technology made his process even smoother. While Richard had a traditional open resection, Don had a robotic resection. The advancement made recovery quicker and left less of a scar.

“I so appreciate the folks at Ocean. They were on top of everything and a tremendous help in making the process easier,” adds Don.

Appreciative and Cancer-free 

Don is now cancer free along with Richard. The past year has given him a larger appreciation, not just of life, but of his father, now 91.

“We gained an appreciation for anyone who has had to fight through any kind of cancer,” says Richard. “It’s not an easy journey.”

In scheduling his colonoscopy, Don took measures that many tend to delay as long as possible. This action may have saved his life. Now, as more people are suffering from colon and colorectal cancer at a much younger age and the U.S. task force announces new recommendations that lower the age of colorectal cancer screenings to 45, both Richard and Don recommend not putting off screenings.

The duo now have plans to get back to activities they love to do together, mainly fishing.

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