LIMESTONE, Maine — As an instrumentation and controls instructor in the trade technology department at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle, Chuck Kelley of Limestone finds teaching comes naturally.
But he recently added a new topic to his instructional repertoire by appearing in commercials informing individuals statewide about the importance of early screening for colon cancer.
Kelley is one of seven Mainers chosen to share their stories during an awareness campaign under way since Nov. 15 to increase colon cancer screening rates in Maine. The campaign is made possible by an initiative of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services; department officials wanted to put a Maine face on colon cancer in efforts to help prevent the second-leading cause of cancer death in the state.
Kelley had few reservations about being a spokesman for the cause since he believes early detection saved his life.
While it’s widely accepted that individuals should begin screening for colon cancer when they turn 50 (pending family history and other variables), Kelley was diagnosed in June 2008 with stage II colon cancer when he was 47. A colonoscopy revealed that the cancer had permeated the lining of his colon but had spread to no other organs and that he had a cancerous polyp.
One-third of Kelley’s colon was removed as well as the polyp; he has been cancer-free for 2½ years with all systems functioning normally. Had he waited to be screened for colon cancer, Kelley’s story of survival could have had a very different ending.
Kelley hopes Mainers understand the importance of being screened for colon cancer.
“This can save your life, and I really feel strongly that it did save mine,” Kelley said.
In 2009, almost 900 Mainers were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and approximately 260 died from the disease, yet some individuals still have reservations about talking to their doctors about that area of health care. While some may be shy about broaching the subject with medical professionals, ignoring a potentially life-threatening concern is unacceptable as far as Kelley is concerned.
“You have to be proactive in your own health and you have to be part of the process, and if it’s a matter of your life, then you need to get over it,” he said.
The commercial was Kelley’s first foray into “stardom,” and he sounded almost surprised that people near and far have recognized him.
Last week, Kelley was recognized by a couple from southern Maine who saw him in the commercial. Locally, he has frequently heard from friends and acquaintances who have seen him on television.
The commercial took about an hour to shoot in Portland, and Kelley said that the people, facilities and experience provided by commercial creator Burgess Advertising were all very nice.
Kelley offered to do the commercial after he was forwarded an e-mail soliciting survivor stories from his wife, Jo-Ellen, a community educator for the Power of Prevention (that, coincidentally, educates the public about the importance of being screened for colon cancer).
For additional information on the awareness campaign or to view Kelley’s commercial, visit http://www.colonscreenme.org/stories.html.