INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and if Butler basketball fans need motivation to go through screening, they only need to look at the school's coaching staff.
Just as the Bulldogs started hitting a mid-season stride, the school's strength and conditioning coach, Jim Peal, hit a huge health scare.
Peal says he felt fine, but his first-ever colonoscopy showed a large polyp that proved to be malignant.
Peal's work with the many athletes whom he coaches across all of the schools sports went on immediate hold, and through an incision in his belly, doctors took out the growth and 14 inches of intestine.
Peal put himself on an aggressive timeline: he wanted to return in time to travel with the basketball team to the Atlantic 10 Tournament. And he did it.
"I will say I am the most blessed person in the city of Indianapolis," said Peal when we spoke with him as he got ready to leave for the trip.
Peal says it has helped that doctors feel his surgery was successful enough that he did not need chemotherapy or radiation.
He also says the fast turnaround sometimes fools him into forgetting how urgent his case really was.
He says he felt like, " I didn't have cancer. And I still, part of me in my mind, you know ... I'm going through it and 'I'm not a cancer (survivor)...', but I am. I am a cancer person. I've had cancer!"
Peal says he draws inspiration from Beth Couture, the Butler Womens' Basketball coach who had a brush with breast cancer a couple of years ago.
He also says that while time is healing the scar in his belly, others are helping to heal everything else.
"This came to me in the mail right after I got out of the hospital," he says as he shows off a blue bracelet with the word "PEALStrong" on one side and a series of letters on the other. "ANWWBS: Ain't nothing wrong with being strong - It's a saying of mine. My English teachers probably weren't too proud of that!"
He also received cards and letters from the many students and staffers in the Athletic Department and from peers at other programs around the country.
Peal has also had a change of heart in the scary weeks since his diagnosis.
At first, he said pride and privacy made him want to tell no one. But after the surgery and the outpouring of encouragement from players and colleagues, he's decided to spread the message about the exam he says he should have gotten years ago.
"Reality is, you need to get it checked out," he says about screening. "If you can get people to go get a colonoscopy -it kinda stinks, to be honest- but it's also not that much of a pain!"
Doctors say you should get your first colon cancer screening by age 50.
Coach Peal waited until he was 53. He's now convinced that if he'd done it earlier, the exam may have found the polyp before it turned cancerous and put his life in jeopardy.
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