On Friday nights in the fall, the sounds of high school football can be heard in towns all across the country.
Here in West Fargo, those sounds include the commentary of Brian Shawn, an announcer at Midco Sports Network.
Shawn is used to calling some of the biggest battles in North Dakota sports, but recently, he began his own battle with colon cancer and the hereditary condition that caused it, called Lynch syndrome.
“It’s an inherited condition. So it’s passed down through the family. Anyone who has Lynch syndrome, there’s a 50% chance that it would be passed on to their children,” said Meghann Reardon, a genetic counselor at Sanford Health in Fargo.
Shawn found out that he had Lynch syndrome when he took a genetic test at Sanford Health.
“I had no reason to. I had no inkling. I had no health problems at all. I just did it on a whim and just signed up for it and went through the questionnaire and got approved for it,” Shawn said. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time. And six weeks later I got a call back from genetics saying, ‘Hey, you (tested) positive for something called Lynch syndrome.’
“So I started looking into my family history. And that’s when I found out how prevalent colon cancer was in my family. My grandfather died from it at 33, my dad’s oldest brother at 22 and multiple other siblings had various forms of cancer throughout their lives. Once I heard that I started to become more and more concerned about it and that’s why I wanted to get a screening. And that’s when everything kind of went crazy.”
The next stage
Shawn went in for a colonoscopy.
“They could tell right away I had a cancerous tumor, because they couldn’t even get the scope past it in my colon,” he said.
Shawn had a stage III tumor growing through his colon wall. Doctors told him it was probably only a matter of months before it would have spread beyond his colon.
“I’m so lucky. God was definitely watching out for me. Had I decided to do this a year later and started having symptoms, I would have been in a much worse situation in terms of a long-term prognosis for this,” he said.
Shawn would have 70% of his colon removed and he began chemotherapy as soon as he could afterwards. He is in remission now, but doctors do say there’s a 1-in-3 chance the cancer returns.
“Because of this genetic finding, he is at a higher risk to develop other cancers in the future. And so he’s going to be watched pretty closely from here on out,” said Reardon.
A father’s worry
Shawn says he is grateful for the care he’s received at Sanford Health, and remains optimistic about his long-term health. Still, he now has another concern beyond his own health: his daughter has a 50% chance of inheriting Lynch syndrome from him.
“The positive part of that is at least we know. At least we know that we need to get her tested and that she’s going to be closely monitored her whole life if she does test positive for this syndrome. But I hope and pray she doesn’t have it,” said Shawn.
Luckily, genetic testing is available at Sanford Health to Shawn’s daughter, and to anyone who wants to have a screening.
“It’s recommended for people who we would consider to be at high risk to have something genetic. When we’re thinking specifically about cancer, those are people who have had family members who were diagnosed with cancer at young ages, like people with breast or colon cancer under (the age of) 50,” said Reardon.
For his part, Shawn encourages genetic testing, but just as importantly, learning about your own family’s health history.
“We don’t always want to talk about our health problems amongst our friends and family, but we’ve got to be open about it. You need to know what’s going on in your family. You need to know some of your family health history issues, and you’ve got to be open about that so that it can be tested for … because if you don’t, you’re only doing your children a disservice and your grandchildren a disservice,” Shawn said.
Back in the broadcast booth, Shawn is — to borrow an old sports cliché — taking it one game at a time. All the while, working on his own comeback story.
- Lynch syndrome: The genetics of colon cancer
- Genetic testing importance and result types
- Veteran in South Dakota grateful for Sanford DNA test