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By Dagny Stuart | Illustration by Nicholas Wilton

When Ron Obenauf turned 50, he decided to mark the milestone with a visit to his family physician for a physical and a colonoscopy. The CPA and real estate investor from Shelbyville, Tenn., received the physical, but when he asked about the colonoscopy, the doctor said he didn’t recommend them until age 55.

“I told the doctor that my older brother had a colonoscopy and they found three precancerous polyps,” Obenauf remembered. “My doctor turned around and said, ‘I’ll split the difference with you, and we’ll do it when you turn 52 and a half.’ I didn’t push it anymore and in hindsight I should have.”

A couple of months before he turned 52, Obenauf noticed blood in his stool and immediately scheduled a colonoscopy with a local surgeon. The day after the procedure, the surgeon called and told Obenauf that he needed to talk to him right away.

“I asked if it was cancer, and he hesitated, then told me ‘yes.’” By the time Obenauf heard the final diagnosis, his worst fear was confirmed. He had advanced colon cancer.

On that day in 2003, Ron Obenauf began his journey of survivorship, as one of the nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, the number of cancer survivors has tripled in the past 30 years and America’s aging population will lead to even more cases of cancer in the future. A National Cancer Institute (NCI) study indicates that the number of cancer survivors in the United States will increase by 55 percent between 2005 and 2020.

However, support for those survivors has been slower to develop. Patients who end their cancer treatment often don’t receive the information they will need for the rest of their lives. It’s like being pushed out of the supportive hospital nest without being taught how to fly.

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