Frequent stomach growling led to colon cancer diagnosis

March 23, 2023

George Stewart noticed his stomach growling an unusual amount. Months passed and the growling continued. His concern grew which led him to get a colonoscopy. The following day, George was diagnosed with colon cancer.

George Stewart and Dr. Jonathan Cho
George Stewart and Dr. Jonathan Cho

George had to undergo five major surgeries in less than a year. He was seen at the Queen’s Medical Center every day for six months for treatment and procedures, followed by three months of chemotherapy by his oncologist, Dr. Jonathan Cho, who is currently the Medical Director of the Clinical Trials Office at the UH Cancer Center. “I credit Dr. Cho for saving my life,” he said. “He treated me with respect and dignity when I was the most vulnerable. We were partners in my cancer journey and now we’re friends.”

Data from the Hawaiʻi Tumor Registry shows that cancer of the colon and rectum are the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Hawaiʻi Tumor Registry, with an average of 710 new cases a year. It is recommended to get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45, and talk with your doctor about which screening option is best for you.

“I learned I need to be my own advocate and push forward, inquire about other options, get a second opinion, select a medical team that you can work with, and listen to what your body is telling you. Don't ignore unusual occurrences in your body,” said George. “If you are reading this, please get screened for colon cancer. It could save your life as it did mine.”

During George’s cancer journey, he was going through a downward spiral—he lost 40 pounds within four months, grew fearful of complications with his treatment, and felt emotionally and physically defeated. Fortunately, his wife, Jeannie, was there with him every step of the way as his caregiver. “I believe cancer caregivers are the unsung heroes on the cancer journey,” said George. “She did more than the usual acts of service of physically addressing my needs. She lifted the burdens off my plate—the mental anguish, emotional trauma, the grief. She provided encouragement and remained positive while giving sound advice.”

Ten years ago, George was a caregiver of his late wife who lost her fight with cancer. Cancer caregiving is supportive care provided to individuals with a cancer diagnosis. It is highly stressful, requiring hours of devoted time and energy for a loved one while also juggling personal responsibilities. Although caregivers are vital to patients' well-being, George and Jeannie found that there was a lack of resources.

Experiencing the hardships of cancer caregiving first-hand, George and Jeannie decided to form a non-profit organization to provide resources for cancer caregivers called Compassion for Cancer Caregivers. The Stewart’s are dedicated to providing support for cancer caregivers and ensuring they remember to take care of themselves too.

The UH Cancer Center is conducting a study, Improving Quality of Life for Colon Cancer Patients and Caregivers, that provides free information and educational resources to help colon cancer patients and their caregivers. To learn more about this study, call (808) 564-3808.