Evan Conant was one of the lucky ones. His stage I colon cancer was caught early, during a routine colonoscopy, and doctors at the University of Colorado Cancer Center were able to perform a surgery to remove the tumors entirely.
“I’m super-lucky,” says Conant, who lives in the Denver area. “I’ve got friends with stage II, III, and IV colon cancer, and I know the nightmares that they have gone through. I am just grateful every day I wake up.”
Testing saves lives
Conant’s cancer journey began in 2015, when a job change resulted in a new health insurance provider and a new primary care physician.
“She said, ‘You’re over 50; you’re overdue for a colonoscopy. And I really want you to get it as soon as possible, because my brother died from colorectal cancer,’” Conant recalls.
Conant took his doctor’s advice, and the scan revealed cancer in his colon. Conant, who has a disabled spouse and a teenage daughter, knew he needed to act fast. As a marketing professional in the medical device industry, he was aware of the CU Cancer Center’s reputation, and of the multidisciplinary clinics that put experts from several different specialties together on one patient’s case. So he went to the CU Cancer Center for his care.
“I knew that my case was being reviewed at the end of the day by this multidisciplinary team, all in one room getting together looking at my MRI and my patient history and my tumor type, and trying to figure out the best course of action,” Conant says. “That’s why I went to CU, and that really was comforting for me, to know that there was a team doing this in the background as I was anxiously awaiting the news.”
Cancer-free and raising awareness
After more testing and more evaluation, doctors told Conant he had two neuroendocrine tumors in his colon, both of which could be removed surgically. The cancer hadn’t spread to other parts of his body, and he didn’t require chemotherapy. And though the cancer could return at some point, Conant is now living life cancer-free.
“In 10 years, I could end up with neuroendocrine tumors somewhere else; that’s always a possibility,” he says. “But I feel confident in the protocol the CU doctors implemented, because if it happens again in 10 years from now, I’ve had a great 10 years. I haven’t had any symptoms or any complications from anything they did. And we can just start over again. We can say, ‘OK, where is it now? Now what do we do? Do we take a more invasive approach? Do we start chemotherapy?’ Or can they just ramp up my immune system to go knock this thing out?”
Conant knows he was one of the lucky ones, as colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the U.S. In a move that has the potential to save thousands of lives, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in May lowered the recommended screening age for colorectal cancer from 50 to 45 for asymptomatic patients with no family history of colorectal cancer. The move came in response to a steady increase of colorectal cancer rates in recent years among patients younger than 50.
Conant says he now feels a responsibility to raise awareness of colorectal cancer and to advocate for more research into potential cures for the disease. As an ambassador for the nonprofit Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC), Conant works to educate his local community about colorectal cancer causes and symptoms and the importance of colonoscopies and clinical trials; he also has gone to Washington, D.C. to talk to representatives and senators about policy around colorectal cancer.
“As a lucky stage I survivor, hopefully I can do this until I’m old,” he says. “Unless this thing comes back and takes me out. But at least right now, I’m six years in, and I’m still doing some really good work.”
Fueling the fire
That good work includes co-founding Fight CRC’s annual Climb for a Cure, an annual fundraising event that started in Colorado in 2016 when Conant and several other ambassadors got together and climbed Longs Peak. Today, Fight CRC hosts Climb for a Cure events around the country, including a virtual event in August 2021 that found small groups of climbers putting together their own events. Conant hosted the Colorado climb in Breckenridge.
“We want to raise money for research, because that’s really important, but we also want to raise awareness,” Conant says. “A lot of people don’t know that colorectal cancer is the number two cancer killer of men and women. It’s also one of the most preventable, like skin cancer, because with a simple colonoscopy, you can get in there with a scope and look around and see, ‘Oh, OK, we’ve got some problems here. Let’s go fix them.’”
Six years after he first got involved with Fight CRC, Conant already has seen many of the ambassadors he went through training with lose their battles with colorectal cancer. It just underscores how deadly the cancer is, and how much work is left to do to find a cure.
“There were almost 60 of us, and almost half of them are gone,” he says “I’ve watched these men and women that I got to know through this ambassador program die from this nasty cancer. That’s what fuels my fire.”