My wife died at just 42 from colon cancer. Don't dismiss the warning signs | Opinion

The most heartbreaking speech I have ever heard was given by my 14-year-old daughter Hudsyn just a few weeks ago.

She stood up in front of all the students at her junior high school and began, “When I awoke on Dec. 4, 2019, I had no idea that this day would forever stay in my memory. It was the day I lost my mother.”

Early colorectal cancer detection from a colonoscopy can make a life-saving difference.
Early colorectal cancer detection from a colonoscopy can make a life-saving difference.

My extraordinary wife, Melissa, known as “Isse” to family and friends and as “Mom” to our three young children, was 42 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She was only 44 when it took her life.

Isse was a senior executive at Lifepoint Health when she was diagnosed. She was extremely well-informed and intelligent, especially about health care issues. Yet even Isse did not read the signs and signals her body was sending her that something was very wrong: exhaustion, weight loss, nausea, and – most telling of all – periodic blood in her stool.

Tragically, her doctors did not read the signs either. They told her she had internal hemorrhoids from giving birth to three children; therefore, they did not recommend a colonoscopy, which not only detects colon cancer but can even prevent it in its earliest stages. To the end of her life, Isse was frustrated that she and her doctors had not been aware that colon cancer is no longer a disease that strikes primarily old people. In fact, it is predicted to be the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in adults under the age of 50 by 2030. To the end of her life, my passionate and giving wife dedicated all the time and energy she could muster to ensure no one else suffered her fate.

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Nine months before she died, Isse teamed with her wonderful former colleagues at Lifepoint to bring Get Your Rear in Gear, a family-friendly 5k walk/run, to Nashville for the first time. Like other Get Your Rear in Gear events held nationwide, it took place in March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It raised over $150,000 to help raise awareness about one of the most preventable cancers if it’s caught early – and one of the deadliest if it is not.

Alex Waddey
Alex Waddey

The voices of Isse and others advocating for change were certainly heard. In 2021, the recommended age for routine cancer screenings was lowered from 50 to 45. But we still have work to do. There were 3,190 Tennessee colon cancer cases reported in 2019, and 1 in 24 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetime, a statistic only early detection can change.

Therefore, we are continuing her efforts. This year, Get Your Rear in Gear – Nashville took place March 4 and raised more than $139,000 with 750 registrants showing their support for this worthy cause. I’m grateful to all of you who came out to celebrate Isse’s memory and carry her passion forward. With Lifepoint as the presenting sponsor and support from the Colon Cancer Coalition, the event was a success and will continue to support local organizations’ work preventing this awful disease.

So many of Isse’s friends and family were involved in this year’s event, including our children: Hudsyn and her two younger brothers, Briggs and Rex, who are now 12 and 10 years old. They cling to memories of their mother, and we love to tell stories of how goofy she was and how easily she made them laugh. Even though she couldn’t run in the race she helped inaugurate in 2019, she was there at the finish line cheering everyone on like only she could do. And I hope they felt her presence at the finish line again this year.

You see, their mother’s death has made my children wise beyond their years. During her speech in January, Hudsyn told her classmates, “I understand with exceptional clarity the old cliché of never taking the ones you love for granted. It would be easy to wallow in that cliched idea and sometimes I do. But what I do more often is carry into my days how important it is to cherish the present.”

Hudsyn was so brave that day, just like her mother. I was so proud of her. And yet I would have given anything for my daughter to have given a different speech. I don’t ever want anyone else’s child to have to give a speech like that. Yes, everyone must die, but no one should have to die from colon cancer.

Please continue to support the important work of organizations like the Colon Cancer Coalition. And please make an appointment to get screened today.

Alex Waddey lost his wife, Melissa “Isse,” and their children lost their mother in 2019 after a Stage 4 diagnosis when she was only 42. 

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Opinion: Colon cancer killed my wife at 42. Learn the warning signs