SUMMIT, Wis. — A Hartland woman kept a promise to her best friend that saved her life.
Kari McMannes and Cathy Jacobson were best friends for 25 years. McMannes said their families camped and traveled together. The two women even worked at the same place.
When Jacobson was 45-years-old, she found out she had stage four colon cancer.
"I was devastated. She called me at work, asked if I was sitting down, and I said yeah, and I knew it wasn't good," McMannes said.
Jacobson died less than two years later.
Before she passed, McMannes and some friends promised to get colonoscopies at 50.
McMannes moved to Wisconsin right before COVID-19 hit and got her first screening with Aurora Health Care in August of 2020.
"Just shy of 51 and was diagnosed with stage three. I had no symptoms. So, here I am fighting the same battle my best friend fought," McMannes said. "I think it saved my life. I know it did. That was unbelievable."
Last year, guidelines for the recommended age to start colorectal screenings dropped from 50 to 45. Advocate Aurora Research Institute found its recent study supported the change.
"Last year we published a very large study of 10,000 patients within the Aurora system and we had almost 1,000 patients under the age of 50 who had colon cancer," said Dr. Nimish Vakil, gastroenterologist with Aurora Health Care.
Dr. Vakil was the one who spotted McMannes' cancer. He said it is unclear why this cancer is showing up in younger people, but stressed that a colonoscopy can catch precancerous growths and prevent cancer from progressing along with the need for grueling treatments.
"You do a bowel prep, take half a day off work, and you can prevent this second most common cause of cancer death," Dr. Vakil said.
Currently, McMannes is cancer-free and in a monitoring program. It has been a hard journey, but she believes it has led her here for a reason. With March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, McMannes felt compelled to share her experience.
"This is my calling to get the word out and people need to be their own advocates. If something's not right, take charge. Ask your doctors," McMannes said.
McMannes has joined multiple groups to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and connect with others in similar situations.