Leon talks about his colon cancer diagnosis


UPDATE: In Leon Smitherman’s journey to beat colon cancer, Dr. Sanchez said Leon’s surgery Thursday went smoothly, with no problems or complications, and he will spend the next few weeks recovering.

WICHITA, Kansas – For the past few weeks we have been following Leon Smitherman’s battle against colon cancer. Tonight, Leon takes the next step in his journey. He tells us about it in his words.

“A lot has happened since I found out I had cancer just a few weeks ago,” said Leon. “The public support I’ve received has been amazing and I’ve been profoundly touched by your well wishes. Since I went public with my diagnosis, my goal has been and continues to be, to raise awareness about a cancer that no one wants to talk about and to encourage you at home to get screened early.

For the patient, it’s like getting hit with a ton of bricks.”

Dr. Noel Sanchez (KSN Photo)
Dr. Noel Sanchez (KSN Photo)

Dr. Noel Sanchez has been treating patients suffering from colorectal cancer for more than a decade.

In that time, he has preformed thousands of surgeries and saved countless lives. But there is one part of the job he has never gotten used to — the first uncomfortable conversation with a patient when they learn they have cancer.

RELATED LINK | What are symptoms of colon cancer and how can I reduce the risk?

“For the patient, it’s like getting hit with a ton of bricks,” said Dr. Sanchez. “Especially if it’s something they didn’t even suspect. And sometimes that is the case.”

Virtual Colonoscopy
A photo taken during a traditional colonoscopy is seen in this handout photo released by the University of Wisconsin Medical School. (AP Photo/ Courtesy of Dr. Perry J. Pickhardt/ University of Wisconsin Medical School)

About two weeks ago, I was the patient hit with that ton of bricks. I was the one my doctor was having that uncomfortable conversation with — receiving my own diagnosis of cancer.

“Colon cancer is very treatable,” says Dr. Sanchez. “The earlier they are caught, the better the prognosis is going to be. So early colorectal cancers are curable.”

RELATED LINK | Colorectal cancer: Treatment options

The problem is that not all colorectal cancers are caught early. Some patients get the cancers at a young age before screenings are recommended and some patients, like myself, procrastinate putting off the recommended screenings.

“Unfortunately, a colonoscopy is not necessarily a pleasant test. It requires a bowel prep everyone complains of. It’s an invasive procedure. We go inside and look at your colon.”

RELATED LINK | What should I know about colon cancer screening

When I turned 50 years old, my doctor told me to schedule a routine colonoscopy. I should have listened to him but I didn’t. Instead, I put it off for another year and a half. Had I gone in for what turned out to be a very simple procedure when I was supposed to, would I have had cancer then? That’s hard to say. But if I did, it wouldn’t have had another year and a half to take hold in my body. I may not have had to face the surgery I’m facing now.

“It is a major abdominal surgery,” notes Dr. Sanchez. “Although we’ve talked about some new ways to do it, it’s still going to be a big operation.”


Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. If you think you have to have a family history to get it, you’d be wrong.

“Family history does play a roll but the vast majority of colon cancers are sporadic, meaning that they will show up in an individual who has no family history.”

RELATED LINK | Wichita Cancer survivor beats the odds, encourages Leon 

Colon cancer does not have to be the end of the road. It does not need to be the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in this country. But it does have to be diagnosed early and that means you have to take the first step and schedule your screenings when your doctor tells you to.

KSN has partnered with the Colon Cancer Coalition in an effort to raise awareness and hopefully encourage you to become proactive with your own health. We have added a lot of good information about colon cancer to our website at KSN.com. I would encourage you to take a few minutes and check it out.

The relative five year survival rate for colorectal cancer, when diagnosed at an early stage before it has spread, is about 90%. But only about 4 out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at that early stage.

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