WATERLOO, Iowa --- Fear is no excuse to take risks when it comes to matters of health.

That's what Kendra Luze, 52, tells family members, loved ones, co-workers, anyone who will listen.

Specifically, Luze, a unit secretary in the emergency room at Sartori Memorial Hospital in Cedar Falls, tells them to get their colon checked.

To increase colon cancer awareness and prevention, Cedar Valley health care organizations and physicians are teaming up with the American Cancer Society to offer free screening kits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend periodic colonoscopies for adults age 50 and older or other health screenings to prevent colorectal or colon cancer. Other factors, such as family history, may mean testing at an even earlier age.

Luze, who doesn't know of any relatives who had colon cancer, heard similar advice from her physician.

But like so many other adults, her fears got the best of her. So she put off a colonoscopy.

Last summer, while recovering from surgery after a gallbladder attack, Luze suffered other health complications. She complained of abdominal pain and vomiting.

An X-ray and a colonoscopy led to a diagnosis that surprised Luze: Colon cancer. Stage IV.

"I was shocked," Luze said.

After undergoing surgery to remove her cancerous tumor, receiving a temporary colostomy bag and receiving rounds of chemotherapy, Luze said the cancer is gone. She hopes others can ignore their fears, take preventive measures and avoid cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed and the second highest cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to Web M.D. When found early, the disease is highly curable.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

The fecal occult blood test kit or FOBT kits being offered by local heath care organizations check stool samples for blood unseen by the naked eye. While procedures like colonoscopies are considered more thorough and can identify both pre-cancerous polyps and cancer, fecal occult blood test can identify signs of cancer.

The kits will be available to qualifying individuals at Peoples Community Health Clinic from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 21 and 22. Kits are intended for individuals age 50 to 65 with no or inadequate insurance. Kits should be returned no later than April 4.

The goal is to give away as many tests as possible, said Nancy McHone, a registered nurse at the Covenant Cancer Treatment Center.

"We have no limit," McHone said.

While no test is foolproof, the goal is to help Cedar Valley residents be more proactive when it comes to looking after their colon, McHone added.

Those with limited or no insurance who meet specific criteria may be eligible for assistance should tests detect a possible problem. For more information, call McHone, Covenant Cancer Treatment Center, at 272-2841 or Becky Dumler, Allen Hospital, at 235-3823.

Health agencies and physicians involved in the effort are Allen Hospital, Black Hawk County Health Department, Peoples Community Health Clinic, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and Covenant Clinic gastroenterologists Dr. Victor Mujica and Dr. Carline Quander.

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