CFL legend battling to educate fans about colon cancer

Lui Passaglia Grey Cup

Mediaplanet had a chance to catch up with Lui Passaglia, best known for his 25-year career with the BC Lions, who went public last year with his fight against colon cancer.
Lui Passaglia now dedicates time to helping increase awareness and encouraging people to talk to their doctors about this prevalent, yet highly preventable, disease.

Lui Passaglia Grey Cup

Image: Wikimedia

Mediaplanet: What motivated you to speak about your experience with colon cancer?

Lui Passaglia: After the initial shock of being diagnosed with colon cancer wore off, I focused on arming myself with as much information about the disease as possible. I soon realized that by simply starting the conversation, I might be able to help raise awareness and encourage people to talk to their doctor about the urgency of early screening.

This is a disease that I hadn’t given much thought to a few years ago. I figure many men and women share my previous mindset and we need to shift that way of thinking.

MP: How did you find out that you had this disease?

LP: I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer during a routine check-up with my doctor. Prior to my colonoscopy, I showed some of the typical symptoms for the disease – constipation, abdominal discomfort, blood in my stool, but I hadn’t done my research to know what I should be looking for.

There is a hereditary link to colon cancer, so this could have played a part. About ten years ago my dad was diagnosed with the early stages of colon cancer, in fact that was one reason I had my first colonoscopy at age 54. Luckily my dad is also alive and well.

MP: Do you think being an athlete gave you an edge when fighting the disease?

LP: As an athlete I developed the discipline to train and exercise even when I wasn’t feeling my best. Once diagnosed with colon cancer, there were times when the disease prevented me from pushing myself physically. I persevered and I’m now back to exercising as much as possible. I think this allows me to heal both mentally, as well as physically. I feel like I’m in control of my body when I stay active.

MP: How is your life different now than before you were diagnosed?

LP: I have learned to appreciate the important things in life more, especially my friends and family who have been there for me during the rocky road. I don’t know what I would do without that support system, it helps to reassure me that I’m not fighting this battle alone.

In terms of physical side effects, I developed ongoing neuropathy in my hands and feet. Every three months I have a blood test to check my tumour marker. So far, I’m cancer free. I can do everything I could do prior to my diagnosis.

What helps me every day is to focus on the positives and keep telling myself that I’m going to beat this. We need to spread the word about the importance of early detection and screening. Colon cancer is 90 percent preventable if caught early. Everyone should speak to their doctor to ask when they should be screened.


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