Know Your Family History: Colon Cancer CAN Happen Before Age 50

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“It came as a shock to me and my family,” says Dawn Nordquist, who was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 36.  “All I could think of was the possibility of my daughters growing up without a mother.”

by Charlotte Hofer, American Cancer Society

March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and according to the American Cancer Society, this year in South Dakota about 430 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed, with more than 150 deaths expected.  But the good news is, colon cancer is a highly preventable disease when caught early, and knowing your family history can save your life.  The American Cancer Society recommends that adults over age 50 get screened regularly; however, people with a family history of the disease should talk to a doctor about getting screened at an earlier age.

Take the story of South Dakotan Dawn Nordquist, for example.  She was 36 years old with three young children when she received her colon cancer diagnosis.  “It came as a shock to me and my family,” says Nordquist.  “When I was first diagnosed with colon cancer, all I could think of was the possibility of my daughters growing up without a mother.”

Nordquist acknowledges that family history may have contributed to her diagnosis, so she has channeled her energy into fighting for a cure.  “I have three daughters, and we have so much cancer in our family history.  I want to do anything possible to help find a cure, so shortly after my diagnosis I did my first Relay For Life.  I was so touched, and it’s something we continue to do together as a family.”

Relay For Life is an American Cancer Society event that celebrates survivors and raises vital funds to fight cancer.  Each year, over 4 million people in 20 countries take part in this global phenomenon and raise awareness to save lives from cancer.

And that’s just one of the many programs provided by the Society.  Look Good…Feel Better is a free program that helps female cancer patients improve their appearance and self-image by teaching them hands-on beauty techniques to manage the physical side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  “I attended the Look Good…Feel Better program and LOVED it!  The American Cancer Society has a lot of great resources available to anyone who would need it,” says Nordquist.

Knowing that early detection can save lives, Nordquist urges South Dakotans to get screened.  “Having gone through cancer myself, I would definitely recommend colon screenings early and on a regular basis.  I promise they aren’t as bad as they sound, and they could save your life!”

In addition to getting screened, the American Cancer Society has a few simple tips that can help lower your risk of colon cancer:

  1. Get active! Adults should be physically active every day for 30 minutes or more.
  2. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat.  Try lean proteins like chicken or turkey.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight throughout life and avoid weight gain—particularly fat around the midsection. Making small changes to your diet can actually make a big difference!
  4. Avoid drinking in excess. Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, if you drink at all.
  5. Be tobacco free. Tobacco use accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths.  Quit today and stay cancer-free.

For more information on colon cancer prevention and screening, or to find programs and services provided by the American Cancer Society, contact us at 1.800.227.2345 or  To find a Relay For Life in your community, visit


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