CONCORD, N.C. — I’ve always liked John Andretti. He is one of the most versatile race car drivers I’ve ever had the chance to watch, and he always seemed like such a really good guy.
Now, I respect the hell out of him. He’s been incredibly open about his battle with colorectal cancer and has worked since his original diagnosis in 2017 to raise awareness of the need for colonoscopies with the hashtag CheckIt4Andretti.
It isn’t an easy disease to talk about and most people get uncomfortable at the thought of a colonoscopy. It isn’t a topic for polite conversation. People are much more attuned to the plight of other cancers and prevention tools like mammograms. But the truth is colonoscopies save lives. John Andretti learned this the hard way and is sharing his story to a demographic that can benefit tremendously from this knowledge.
His story and his willingness to share hits close to home. I lost my mother to colorectal cancer when she was 49 years old — one year younger than the recommended age for the first colonoscopy screening. The fact is my mother never had a colonoscopy because by the time she went to the doctor, her tumor was so large they couldn’t perform the procedure. She died two years after her initial diagnosis — the last three months confined to a bed, unable to get up on her own.
Unlike John Andretti and many others, my mom had symptoms, but she was embarrassed about them. She didn’t want to go to the doctor or talk about it. Would it have made a difference if she’d gone six months or a year sooner? I will never know and that haunts me.
Twenty years ago, colorectal cancer was never discussed. Even after my mom was diagnosed and had gone through her first surgery and first round of chemo, I was unsure if she wanted me to tell people what type of cancer she had.
Before her diagnosis, I never knew there was a history of it on my father’s side of the family. His paternal grandfather died from it and his aunt beat it.
That is why I admire John Andretti so much. He is talking about it. He isn’t embarrassed. He’ll tell you and I will too — colonoscopies aren’t pleasant — but compared to what he’s going through and what my mom went through — they are a day at the beach. I speak from experience. I had my first at 36, one in March and my next is scheduled in five years because the best way to beat colorectal cancer is to catch it before it can form.
I know people respect the Andretti name — and that what the Andrettis say is heard. I hope their words (they’ve all joined in John’s message) resonate with race fans. That it makes people feel more comfortable asking their doctors about colonoscopies and any symptoms they may have. I also hope families talk about their medical history so appropriate screenings can be conducted.
Andretti’s message is a game-changer. It can save lives.
My mom was a race fan. She loved drag racing. She always liked John Andretti’s Taco Bell “Run For the Border” dragster. We laughed about it because she hated Taco Bell. June marked 18 years that she’s been gone. I miss her every day.
I think about John Andretti, his wife and his children. He is made of strong, sturdy stock and he’ll need it for this fight he’s waging. I hope he kicks colorectal cancer’s ass (pun intended) and I thank him for his courage in sharing his important message.
If you are close to 50 (or 45 is even better), get a colonoscopy. If not for yourself, do it for my mom and John Andretti — #CheckIt4Andretti.