Milwaukee cancer survivor encourages people to get colonoscopy on time after best friend dies of colon cancer

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SUMMIT, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Doctors are pushing for people to get colonoscopies even earlier after a new study from the Advocate Aurora Research Institute showed rates of colorectal cancer increasing in younger people.

Kari McMannes and her best friend, Cathy, were just two of those people. 

From working to raising families, McMannes and Cathy did everything together for 25 years. Then one day, McMannes got a call that would change both of their lives. 

"She called me and asked if I was sitting down at work, and she says it's stage four colon cancer," McMannes said.

McMannes told CBS 58 by the time Cathy was diagnosed at 45 years old, the cancer had already spread to her liver and lungs. She died less than two years later.

McMannes promised her best friend to get a coloscopy at 50 years old. 

"I was literally one week shy of turning 51, but because of her, I made sure I got in and got it scheduled," McMannes said. "Much to my surprise, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer."

McMannes is now considered cancer free after undergoing chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries. 

"We don't have a method of telling you don't do this and you won't get colon cancer, but we do have a method of do this and we can prevent colon cancer," Aurora Health Care Gastroenterologist Dr. Nimish Vakil said.

The recommended age to get a colonoscopy was lowered from 50 to 45 years old after more people were diagnosed with advanced disease earlier in their lives. A family history lowers the age even more.

"Subtract 10 years from the age at which they were diagnosed with colon cancer, and that's the age you should start," Vakil said.

McMannes didn't have a family history, but because of her best friend and preventative screening, she's around to share their story today.

"She helped save my life," McMannes said. "I probably would have been like a lot of people out there saying 'Oh, I'm 50. I feel fine,' and just brush it off a year or two."

People should talk with their own doctors about when to get a colonoscopy.

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