The toll of colon cancer weighs heavy on Craig Melvin's family.
His older brother, Lawrence Meadows, died of the disease at 43 in December after being diagnosed four years earlier when doctors removed a baseball-sized tumor from his abdomen and discovered the cancer had already spread.
"He spent a fair amount of time over the past few years raising awareness about the disease," Craig wrote in a tribute on Instagram. "We’ll be keeping up that fight." Craig has been outspoken about men prioritizing their health on TODAY, and recently shared that he is now on the board of directors for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.
His younger brother, Ryan Melvin, 35, is part of the mission too, taking TODAY along when he underwent his first colonoscopy this week — three years after a doctor first recommended he get the screening.
He also opened up about taking charge of his health — including losing 60 pounds, exercising and improving his diet — after watching what Lawrence went through.
“Seeing his battle and seeing him fight, that was one of the points where it kind of just woke something up inside of me,” Ryan told Craig, who interviewed him for a brother-to-brother conversation.
“I want to be here for my kids… if (the doctor) does find something, that's what I'm getting it for.”
Early detection is key, but Ryan admitted he kept pushing off scheduling the colonoscopy, even after a concerning incident in 2017. He felt pain in his side and saw blood droplets in his stool. It turned out to be diverticulitis, an inflammation or infection that can form in the intestines.
Finally undergoing the medical test — during which doctors look for potentially cancerous polyps and other abnormalities in the intestines — would be the next step in taking care of his body, Ryan said.
He wanted the peace of mind of knowing the results, but like many people was a bit anxious ahead of the appointment.
“Any time you have an outpatient procedure or anything like that where something's going up inside of you… it'll make you a little nervous,” he said.
Craig reminded him he’d be sedated: “You start counting backwards and then the next thing you know, that's it. It's over,” he said recalling his own colonoscopy.
Less than 25 minutes after Ryan’s procedure began this week, it was over. He received good news soon after: The results were normal, with doctors not finding any polyps. The whole family was relieved.
“We need to do better about getting ourselves screened so we can live longer and have healthier, more prosperous lives,” Ryan said.
Lifestyle risk factors for colon cancer include lack of exercise, a diet low in fiber and high in fat, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and being overweight. Both Melvin brothers recalled their disbelief when Lawrence was diagnosed at 39. He was athletic and never drank or smoked — a healthier man than both of them, they noted.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in American men and women combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It disproportionately affects the Black community, with Black people about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it than most other groups, the American Cancer Society noted. "This disease is ravaging the Black community,” said Dr. Durado Brooks, the chief medical officer of screening at Exact Sciences.
More adults in their 20s and 30s are also being diagnosed, perhaps because of the obesity epidemic.
Doctors say it can be awkward for patients to discuss the symptoms, which include blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, and unexplained weight loss.
The American Cancer Society recommends starting screening at 45, if you're at average risk for developing colon cancer; earlier, if you have a family history of the disease or other risk factors.
The Melvin brothers hoped everyone would be more vigilant about their health. Men especially often don’t discuss their symptoms and concerns, they said.
“We'll talk about the Cowboys, but we won't talk about our colons,” Craig noted. “This is going to change that.”
“I'm excited to do some good and hopefully get some folks out there to get a colonoscopy, get checked, get a physical,” Ryan added.
CORRECTION (March 5, 2021, 10:41 a.m.): A previous version of this story misstated the title of Dr. Durado Brooks. He is the the deputy chief medical officer of screening at Exact Sciences and is no longer affiliated with the American Cancer Society.