Two weeks ago, colon cancer survivor Justin Hughes played 18 holes with champion golfer Tom Lehman. It happened during the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Arizona.
With the help of Nick, a best friend turned caddie—who is an “amazing golfer”—Justin says he played really well.
“I don’t know how or why, but the golf gods were watching over me,” he says. “That’s probably the coolest experience I’ve had as a result of colon cancer.”
Cologuard is an at-home screening test for colorectal cancer. The company paired survivors with golf pros for a relaxing day on the green. Justin’s journey to the Omni golf course, however, was anything but tranquil.
Four years ago, at just 34 years old, doctors diagnosed Justin with stage IIIc colon cancer.
“It was an absolute and total shock,” he says.
Fortunately, Justin had been paying attention to his body. He noticed light traces of blood in his stool. Over six months, he started to notice more blood and his bowel habits changed.
“It wasn’t something where you instantly think something is really wrong—it was really subtle,” Justin says. “I just thought, there is something off.”
Initially, his doctor thought it was hemorrhoids. Justin agreed.
“Because why would you even say that word—cancer?” he says. “The doctor said, ‘You don’t have to worry about that—you’re too young.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, duh, I know.”
But as the symptoms grew more apparent, Justin swung for a screening test.
“I went back and said this is still kind of happening,” he says. “Knowing what I know now, I was incredibly lucky because I think it could have gotten worse in a short time.”
Justin’s diagnosis is part of a startling trend affecting adults under age 50. Since 1994, cases of young-onset colorectal cancer have increased by 51%, according to the National Cancer Institute. Researchers aren’t sure why.
Justin underwent a whirlwind of treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery to remove the tumor. An ileostomy. Six months more of chemotherapy. And then an ileostomy reversal—all in a year.
Since being declared NED—no evidence of disease—Justin has begun advocating for colorectal cancer awareness.
“I said, ‘When I’m done with all this, and my life is back together, I need to get involved.”
Justin joined the Undy RunWalk Planning Committee in Phoenix. The Undy is a series of run-walks that raise awareness and funds for the Alliance’s mission in 22 cities across the country.
He participates with his family as team “Hughes and the Underoos.”
Justin says colorectal cancer awareness is critical, especially due to the preventable nature of the disease. Ninety percent of cases are curable when caught early.
“We’re really lucky you can go inside a colon, get checked out, and find cancer,” he says. “You’re not that lucky when it comes to prostate, or liver, or anything where it’s hard to get in and take a look. Colon cancer is so easily detectable.”
Justin is the father of two children, who are now 7 and 10 years old. For those with a family history of the disease, doctors recommend screenings at age 40 or 10 years before the age of the youngest case in a person’s immediate family. That means his children will be required to get a screening around the time they start their first jobs.
“They’ll be super pissed at me,” Justin says.
But at least their dad can keep up with golf pros. That’s cool.
In March, we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Join us as we build our nation of passionate allies, fiercely determined to end this disease within our lifetime.