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Chadwick Boseman's colon cancer fight inspires local man to get checked, beats cancer

Gus Rodriguez with his wife. (Gus Rodriguez)
Gus Rodriguez with his wife. (Gus Rodriguez)
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Gus Rodriguez knew that something might be wrong with him.

He was having blood in his stool, but like so many of us, usually puts off doctor’s visits.

“What’s it going to take for you to call up the doctor and say hey, can we get this checked out?” CBS12 News asked.

“For me, it’s got to be really bad,” Rodriguez said.

In October, a month after beating COVID-19, Rodriguez saw Chadwick Bosman’s story on the news with his wife. Boseman starred as the Black Panther in the Marvel movies. He was also in the late stages of fighting colon cancer. He died from it in December at just 43 years old.

“I turned to my wife and said, 'I got a confession to make,'" Rodriguez said.

He then told his wife about the blood.

“She said 'you gotta get it checked out' and I said you’re right,'" Rodriguez said.

“Chadwick Boseman was a hero on and off the screen and he was young,” said Dr. Heidi Bahna, a colorectal surgeon at JFK Hospital in Atlantis.

Rodriguez got a colonoscopy. His cancer was in the early stages. About two weeks ago, Dr. Bahna performed the surgery.

“We were able to do a robotic, minimally invasive surgery, and he was cured of his cancer and will get chemotherapy to make sure this cancer doesn’t come back,” Dr. Bahna said.

READ MORE: 'Black Panther' star's death highlights risk of colon cancer at younger ages

The worry among doctors, especially during the pandemic, is that too many people are putting off critical preventative healthcare, like mammograms or colonoscopies. March is also Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

A recent Italian study projected that delaying screenings nine to 12 months will lead to a 12 percent increase in cancer related deaths.

“Early colon cancers are often treated with surgery alone, and have a very good survival, about 90 percent for stage one and two,” said Dr. Juliet Ray, a colorectal surgeon at JFK.

The recommended age to get checked dropped recently from 50 to 45.

“It’s not really known why people born in the 80s have an increased risk now. Part of it is believed to diet, genetics, microbiome, there’s a lot of different theories. What we do know for sure that there is an increased proportion in this population, and therefore screening earlier can catch and prevent these from becoming higher grade cancers,” Dr. Ray said.

“Right time, right place, watching that program saved my life,” Rodriguez said.

For the 66-year-old, he’s thankful he got checked when he did before it was too late.

“I got to take care of myself if I want to spend time with my granddaughter and my kids and see them grow. Family has become a big priority for me,” Rodriguez said.

The most common symptom for colon cancer is none at all, which is why regular screenings are so important. If you start to notice blood or diarrhea or something else with your stomach that doesn’t feel right, doctors recommend getting it checked out right away.

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