TILLAMOOK COUNTY WELLNESS: Believe Me, It’s Easier if You Catch it Early

Mark Wiegardt isn’t the kind of man to complain much.  Owner of Pearl Point Oyster in Netarts, Oregon, and a fourth-generation oysterman, Mark knows something about hard work, integrity and the importance of family.  But, like many people, practicing self-care often takes a back seat to the responsibility of being a father, husband, and hard worker.   Every once in awhile, we need to slow down some, and check in on our own health – both physically and mentally.  Arguably, Mark was reminded of this life-lesson the hard way.

In late 2017, Mark experienced persistent fatigue and weight loss.  “I thought, maybe I was just getting old. Working on the bay, in the oyster business is tough work, so you expect to be fatigued…,” Mark trails off as he recounts the events leading up to a discovery that has forever altered his life – and the life of those who care about him.

“I was losing weight, but it was over time so I didn’t really notice it, others did, but I didn’t.  Until one day shaving, I saw it in the mirror.”  Yet, Mark continued to procrastinate about getting checked out by a doctor.

It was when Mark was visiting friends in southern Oregon, that things finally came to a head. “I had a really good friend that finally convinced me I needed to get checked out, really checked out. I reluctantly caved in.”  Mark went to the local hospital and got an endoscopy and colonoscopy. “When I woke up, I’ll never forget it, the nurses wouldn’t look at me. Something was really wrong.”  The doctor told Mark they had found a stage 4 cancerous mass in his colon. “I told him to get it out of me.”   Following surgery, Mark was going to require a regimen of chemotherapy, but his prognosis was still pretty grim.  “You start asking questions, like, ‘are we going to be able to fix this? What’s the probable outcome of all this.”

“They actually gave me four to six months to live.”

Mark began the fight of his life. Although chemotherapy took its toll, he was luckier than some.  It would knock him down for a few days after treatment, but Mark was able to work and soon, the weight came back. Looking at Mark then, it was hard to tell he was battling cancer. Still, in 2018, doctors gave him a one in ten chance of surviving a year. Mark sought guidance from his father.

“He says, ‘Mark you gotta make it.’ And I said what do you mean dad?  And he said, ‘You gotta make it to give other people hope. And I thought about that, and I said, yeah, I gotta punch through on this, and let people know that you can survive it.”

Mark pauses and consider his words.  “But, it’s just a lot easier if you catch it early.”

Today, Mark cherishes every day he has to spend with family and friends, and he still enjoys working out on the mudflats of Netarts Bay.  “Listen, it’s sort of like going to get your teeth cleaned.  No one likes to go to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned because you always find something wrong.  But, believe me, if there’s something wrong in your colon and it’s cancer, you want to catch it.”

Mark wanted to share his story so that it might encourage others who are reluctant to get screened for colorectal cancer. “If you don’t think it’s such a big deal for yourself, do it for your family and your friends. Do it for them.  Because I guarantee you, if you get diagnosed with it, you are going to see some people that are going to be pretty darn worried about you.”

If you are aged 50-75, and have not been screened for colorectal cancer, or if you have a family history, please contact your healthcare provider today to learn more about screening options.

For more local health and wellness information, follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or go to www.tillamookcountywellness.org.