A Daughter’s Story: Colon Cancer’s Impact on a Family

March 17, 2011

“Well, it’s the size of a small orange,” my dad said as he pointed at the images taken of a tumor during his colonoscopy. It was a Tuesday night, and I felt a sense of relief that we had finally found the source of stomach pain and unexplained weight loss that he suffered from for the past two months. I was also shocked. As a thin, healthy, active thirty-eight year old, he wasn’t even a candidate for a colonoscopy, much less colon cancer. One week after the tumor was discovered he had a routine full body scan to ensure that the cancer was contained to his colon. My family assumed they wouldn’t find any additional cancer and he would have a basic surgery to remove the portion of his colon inflicted with the tumor, then he would be back to normal before we knew it. No big deal.

My parents walked in the house after the full body scan. It was a frigid February evening and my 12 year old sister and I could see from the looks on their faces they had not been given the news we expected. The cancer was going to be a very big deal.

My father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. His liver was completely engulfed in tumors and several of his lymph nodes were infected. He was told only 10% of people survive with a diagnosis like this. Being an incredibly optimistic person, there was not a doubt in his mind that he would beat it. After all, he had always considered himself to be in the top 10%.

Catherine's father Luke Osterhaus

Although he had a strong faith and a great attitude, the cancer could not be stopped. My father took an indefinite leave from his job and my mother became a full-time caregiver. In March, they removed a tumor the size of a grapefruit from his colon, and in April he started weekly rounds of chemotherapy. But after just three rounds it became clear that the chemo was doing more harm than good. My parents decided to end the chemotherapy and focus on using alternative therapies, including essential oils, acupuncture, prayer, healing touch, massage, music therapy, nutrition therapy, and regular walks to help my dad remain comfortable. He seemed to gain strength during the first few weeks of May, but by the end of May the cancer was taking control over his body and my parents were told if they wanted to do any last memorable things as a family, we should. We began hospice care, attended one last Twins game, made a trip to his hometown in Iowa, and he even got to take his girls to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game.

His battle with cancer lasted four months. He died on June 13, 2002 at age 39.

Unfortunately, my father had no reason to be screened for colon cancer, but now at age 23, I will have regular colonoscopies for the rest of my life. Yes, the “clear liquid diet,” as we call it in my house, isn’t my favorite way to spend twelve hours, but it is far better than the alternative.

My family’s experience with colon cancer does not have to be yours. If you are over age 50 or have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor about scheduling a colonoscopy today. Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers when caught in the early stages.

Editor’s Note: Guest Blogger Catherine Osterhaus is passionate exerciser, health nut, and community health educator. She spends her working days encouraging others to eat healthy and be physically active to promote health and prevent chronic disease. To learn more about how to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer or to detect it early, visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation‘s new site, Colorectal Screening Saves Lives.

16 thoughts on “A Daughter’s Story: Colon Cancer’s Impact on a Family”

  1. Dede Zimmerman says:

    Catherine: Your dad was the best! Always set the bar high for good living and love of family. The way Luke lived, his illness, and passing has changed so many lives. Thanks for the message.

  2. Delphine Broccard says:


    Thank you for sharing your story and inspire others to be safe and have healthy life outlooks. Your father lives on in his beautiful daughter! Miss you.

  3. JoAnna Smith says:

    Cato– Your story is a gift. Luke will always be remembered through you and your whole family. I loved him so much as I know so many others did! His story and your family’s strength will always be an inspiration. Love you all!

  4. Stephanie Linhart says:

    Catherine –
    I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad seemed to be an awesome person. I have chills reading your story because I too was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 30 due to a genetic syndrome called Lynch syndrome or HNPCC. The tell tale signs of this syndrome are colon cancer at young ages (under 50) and uterine cancer. People with Lynch syndrome are 80% likely to develop colon cancer and 60% likely to develop uterine cancer in their lifetimes. A simple blood test can tell you if you have the gene. I was fortunate that my colon cancer was caught early (colonscopies are a life saver!). I urge you and your relatives to get tested for Lynch syndrome. There is not enough awareness of this syndrome and it sneaks up because no one expects to get colon cancer when they are young – it is always thought of as the “old person’s cancer”. Take care and may the memories of your father give you and your family peace and comfort!

  5. Cindy Meyers says:


    I too lost a parent to colon cancer. My mother was diagnosed in 1994 and passed away in September of 1996. She had just turned 59 a month before she died. I was 32 at the time but my younger sister was only 19. It has been difficult over the years; my sisters and I have pulled together to support one another, but it has been hard. It has been especially sad to watch our children grow up without their wonderful grandmother. At the time of her diagnosis, we had barely heard of colonoscopy. Now, my older sister and I as well as my Mom’s brothers are routinely screened for this disease. When I hear of a friend or family member that has not been tested, I encourage them to get screened. It is so much better than the alternative!! My heart goes out to you!!!

  6. Linda says:

    My husband was just diagnosed 10 days ago with Stage 4 colorectal cancer…and has spread to the liver. After the initial shock wore off, I got busy and am currently doing a ton of research. With the new treatments offered today, he is confident he will pull through. He had absolutely NO symptoms except for blood clots found throughout his body after just routine bloodwork.
    The next few months will be difficult, I know, but with all the support, prayers and new treatments, I’m hopeful we will continue to have the happy life we have always had together.

  7. Family Member says:

    He was a great man

  8. Marty Novak-Haynes says:


    You will probably never read this because your blog post is so old now. I worked for your dad at Jostens. I live in Colorado now and am visiting MN right now. I drove by the old Jostens building and it made me think of him. I did a google search to see what came up and found your blog. Your dad was one of the nicest, happiest people I knew on earth. He was so full of life and energy. I did not learn of his cancer until about 2 years ago. I was devastated. Thank you for your post. My friend Kelly was diagnosed with Colon Cancer and has completed 12 rounds of chemo. So far so good. She was 35 when diagnosed. Thanks for spreading the word about screening. And again, your dad was great and loved by so many. We will never ever forget him.

  9. Natalie says:

    After reading this, I am definitely going to have a colonoscopy. My aunt was just diagnosed.
    Thanks for sharing this story.

  10. Linet says:

    Am sorry to se this! Am also 23 and my dad is 42 he also was diagnost with stage 4 of colon cancer! We knew that his mother passed away from cancer, and his brother too! But am so scare to find out that I could have cancer too! That I dnt knw what to do plus I have no insurance!! I have a baby and I get more scare because I knw he needs me! Ur story sounds so much alike!! My dad started 2 months ago w chemo and had a scan one week ago! The cancer is not worse but chemo didn’t really made a chance in his cancer! This is very hard!!

  11. cyndi says:

    My husband was just diagnosed with colon cancer on Monday, October 21,2013. Catherine I was so sad to hear the story about your dad’s stage 4 colon cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with you, I know how much you must miss him. I don’t know what stage cancer my husband has yet, we will know more after tomorrow’s CT scan. I just want to tell anyone with a cancer diagnosis of any kind any stage to pray. Prayers are still answered today and miracles do happen. Never lose hope, for Jesus is our hope. Always do what the Dr. asks you to, eat healthy, exercise or walk, and above all pray. I am a 3 time cancer survivor, 3 different kinds. I am here by the grace of God. My husband and I are 58 years old, we have 3 daughters and 2 grandsons. I plan on having a long life, and I plan on fighting with my husband against this colon cancer with whatever measures the Dr. tells us to use plus prayer. I am living proof it works! God bless.

  12. cyndi says:

    November 12, 2013 Update on my husband’s colon cancer diagnosis. He has stage 3C colon cancer. Statistics show this is not good. Stage 4 means it went to distant organs. His diagnosis was that it went to 6 of 15 lymph nodes taken out at surgery. The tumor was the size of a lemon. He was fortunate that he didn’t get a colposcopy bag and very blessed that he did not have much pain after surgery and that the tumor was successfully removed without complication. Next after he is healed from surgery he will get 12 rounds of chemo, one round every two weeks for 6 months. I will be giving him a cancer fighting diet starting now to kill some of the cancer cells before surgery, and we will pray. Never give up the fight against cancer. Prayer and a positive attitude helps tremendously. Research all of your options. Look to God for strength and comfort. God Bless. I will keep you updated.

  13. Susan San Pedro says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. What a wonderful father and what a strong daughter you are, I recently lost my Mother-in-Law to Pancreatis Cancer and like your father my brother has been diagnos with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. He starts Chemo tomorrow. It’s difficult to find the right words as the Doctor is only giving him 2 years. He lives in Tacoma, WA and I live in Fla. Looking for ways to help. Again, thank you and I wish us all good health and Love!

  14. Fernando vigil says:

    How can u tell if my cancer is spreading I’m getting more pain on both of sides under my rib cages and I’m feeling more nervous and fatigue as the days go bye

    1. Prevent Cancer says:

      Hi Fernando, we are very sorry to hear about this, we encourage you to consult your health care professional, as they will be the best equipped to assess your condition. All the best, Prevent Cancer Foundation team

  15. kingstonGA says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and inspire others to be safe.Consult to professional colorectal surgeons in Sydney. To know more about this disease visit http://colorectal-surgeon.com.au/

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