Don’t Die from Embarrassment!

Phil-LawlerEvery now and then, if you’re really fortunate, you get to meet someone like Phil Lawler. Phil was special. He was one of those individuals that make you think, “Wow, how blessed I am to count this incredible man as my friend!”

I met Phil in the early 2000s when I was hosting a nationally syndicated radio program that focused on health and fitness. He became a regular guest because of his contagious positive energy and passion. Even over the radio, you could tell he had been put on this earth for a reason. Phil had been instrumental in the founding of PE4Life, a non-profit dedicated to improving the fitness of children worldwide. He liked to say he “was just a gym teacher,” but Phil realized that teaching kids the dimensions of a volleyball court was ultimately not going to have any substantial impact on their health or quality of life. That insight led to the development of what he called “New P.E.”

Phil spent twenty-nine years as the P.E. teacher at Madison Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois. When you walked into his gym, you knew immediately that something was different at Madison. They had treadmills and a rock climbing wall. All the kids knew how to wear and read heart rate monitors. The math, reading, and science teachers all loved Phil. When they sent him their academically challenged students they would suddenly see a marked improvement in those kids’ grades. Phil had heard there was a link between physical fitness and academic achievement, and he was out to prove it on a daily basis!

Slowly but surely, the word on physical fitness spread throughout the Naperville School District. Test scores soared and rates of childhood obesity plummeted. Phil did all he could to promote the cause. He worked tirelessly raising money from corporate sponsors in the community, hosting workshops, giving tours, and doing interviews. Journalists called from all over the country and eventually from all over the world. Phil, along with his good friend and colleague Paul Zientarski, ultimately trained over seventeen hundred educators, administrators, and community leaders from forty-two states and ten countries. His promotion of healthy children positively impacted over twenty-four hundred schools and more than two million kids. TWO MILLION KIDS!

Today is April 23rd. Exactly seven years ago, Phil Lawler died from colon cancer. He was sixty years old.

In the News

You may have read recently that rates for colorectal cancer, which had been declining for decades, are surging among young and middle-aged adults (as reported in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute). Researchers are not exactly sure of the reason, but the main suspects include obesity, inactivity and poor diets. In other words, the increase is believed to be related to lifestyle and bad habits.

Like most cancers, age is a primary risk for colorectal cancer which is why since 2008 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has not recommended screening for colorectal cancer before age fifty. Statistically, getting a colonoscopy before fifty didn’t make much sense. Given the new data, however, that bar may need to be lowered. Of the 135,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in 2013 (the latest data available), 11,000 were people in their forties and 4,000 were younger than that.

Certain cancers go in the “bad luck” category, but colorectal cancer is not one of them. Because it grows so slowly, most experts consider colorectal cancer to be preventable by simply getting a colonoscopy. With early detection, pre-cancerous polyps can simply be “clipped out” well before they become life-threatening tumors. If you receive an all clear report, usually you don’t need another colonoscopy for ten years.

I’ll be the first to admit that getting a colonoscopy is not an enjoyable adventure. I’ve had two. The actual procedure is not nearly as challenging as the preparation, however, which starts the day before the exam. “The Prep” includes fasting and drinking copious amounts of a horrible tasting laxative designed to help give the gastroenterologist a clear view of your colon’s nooks and crannies. (The idea of a stranger snaking a flexible tube with a camera on the tip into “your Southern end” does not sound like much fun, but IT SURE BEATS THE ALTERNATIVE of colon cancer!)

Back To My Friend Phil

After he was diagnosed with colon cancer, Phil admitted repeatedly he had made what turned out to be a fatal mistake. Although he had spent most of his adult life helping teach others the critical importance of taking care of their health, he had ignored his own advice. Had Phil simply gotten a routine colonoscopy when he was fifty, he would most likely be alive today. His magnetic smile and driving passion would still be influencing countless others to lead better, healthier, more fit lives. That’s what he loved to do. That’s why he was here.

I miss Phil. I’m confident there are literally thousands that miss him as well. I know what he’d say if he could: Although getting a colonoscopy is not on the top of anyone’s wish list, it certainly doesn’t make any sense to die from embarrassment!

Stay well!