Lawrence urges early screening

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

Chris Lawrence had a secret that the reserved, humble man didn’t share with many outside his close friends and family.

Lawrence, a native of Williamstown and graduate of Williamstown High School, lived for 10 years with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease that causes inflammation and sores in the colon (large intestine) and rectum.

The ulcers that form on the colon’s lining and rectum make the colon empty frequently leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, rectal bleeding, stomach pain, cramping, frequent and urgent need to use the bathroom and fatigue.

Lawrence said the disease, which has no known cause or cure, rendered him unable to even go to Florence with his family.

“It was a struggle to get through the day,” said the soft-spoken Lawrence. “There were commitments I couldn’t keep and business travel I’d have to cancel because I couldn’t get too far from the bathroom in case I got sick.”

Lawrence said the worst part was not being able to participate with his family in routine things.

“My wife was president of the WHS band boosters for four years and our daughter played with the band so we’d travel from Thursday to early Sunday morning most weekends and I wouldn’t eat because I was afraid I’d get sick,” he said.

Ulcerative colitis effects people of all ages, but most are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.

Lawrence’s symptoms prompted doctors to order a colonoscopy when he was 28. For 10 years, he was treated with various medications until 2008 when he was told he needed surgery.

“The steroids, the medicines, none of it worked, so it was hell for 10 years,” he said.

Despite being told he needed surgery, Lawrence didn’t think there was an urgency to the diagnosis.

“I guess, being a man, I just put off going to the doctor,” he said.

In March 2009, he went to the University Hospital in Cincinnati where he met with Dr. Janice Rafferty. She advised Lawrence that his tests showed pre-cancerous cells.

Lawrence didn’t want to ruin his summer by having to recover from surgery, but time wasn’t his friend and on April 12 he had his colon removed.

“I don’t like doctors and I don’t like hospitals,” he said. “I don’t even like to visit people in hospitals, but the surgery was a breeze.”

Lawrence, the assistant manager of Kennedy Book Store in Lexington, recovered quickly and got a new lease on life, even with the colostomy bag that will be his permanent companion.

Following his surgery, he could fish, hunt, eat, sleep, travel, everything that he said used to be a task was now something he could do.

“I don’t have to think about where the bathroom is and don’t have to plan my life like that,” he said.

Dr. Rafferty was so impressed with his attitude and recovery that she asked him if he’d be willing to talk to other patients about the surgery and what to expect from the recovery.

Lawrence has spoken to nearly two dozen people in the last two years.

Dr. Rafferty has also asked him to speak alongside her at a symposium next month.

Lawrence, who is also a member of the Williamstown Board of Education and active at Williamstown Baptist Church, said he feels lucky that his situation turned out so well and a proactive doctor found and treated him before he developed cancer.

“I’ve never had a broken bone nor any other health issues and yet at 28 years old, I found out I was sick,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and just wanted to tell people, especially men, if you’ve got symptoms or think something’s wrong, don’t ignore the signals because listening to them could save your life.”