Screening Story: Patrick and Michael Skehan

One Brother Lost, One Brother Saved

The funeral was packed with over 300 people, each one wanting to pay their respects to Patrick Skehan – one of the most light-hearted and caring 60-year olds they’d ever met. As they picked up funeral programs and prayer cards, many also took colorectal cancer awareness “buddy” bracelets and cancer prevention pamphlets provided by the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Patrick didn’t want people to bring flowers; he wanted that money to help others. He wanted everyone to learn from what happened to him.

Late one fall, Patrick (photo, on right, in Guatemala with brother Michael) found blood in his stool and went to see his doctor. At the age of 60, ten years after the recommended screening age, he was finally scheduled for his first colonoscopy. But he had waited too long.

“He was already at stage 4,” remembers 55-year old Michael Skehan, Patrick’s younger brother and co-worker at God TV in Washington D.C. “The cancer could have been growing for several years.”

But Patrick stayed positive throughout his diagnosis and treatment. Even as he lost weight and grew jaundiced, his message to his friends and family was clear. “He asked everyone if they’d had a colonoscopy,” Michael recalls. “He acknowledged what he was going through to keep others from suffering.”

“He asked me if I’d been screened for colon cancer,” Michael says choked with emotion. “I was planning to get one. I knew I was overdue for one. But that did prompt me to get it done.”

Michael’s wife, Andrea Roane Skehan, a Channel 9 News anchor and a member of the Foundation’s board of directors, was relieved that Michael was finally getting his colonoscopy. In fact, she took her mother and Michael for their colonoscopies on the same day. “I was the designated driver,” she remembers as she sits at her cluttered desk surrounded by newspaper clippings and pictures of family and friends.

The doctor found and removed polyps from both Michael and Andrea’s mother. Luckily they were benign. But, according to Michael, the doctor was clear: waiting a few years could have given the polyps time to become cancerous.

“It took his brother’s diagnosis for him to get a colonoscopy,” Andrea says. “I told Pat ‘thank you for saving my husband’s life.’ ”

On January 5, 2008 – only 35 days after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer – Patrick lay in a hospital bed surrounded by family. “We knew he was going. He was taking long, labored breaths,” Andrea says with the hint of tears behind her perfect black eyeliner. “At 2:05 p.m. he took one last breath.”

After losing Patrick, Andrea’s and Michael’s lives will never be the same again. Andrea has a recharged dedication to the Foundation’s mission of raising awareness about the importance of reducing cancer risks through early screening and healthy living.

“We know the key role exercise plays in preventing disease,” she says. Andrea also encourages her family to eat in a more healthy way. “We eat smaller portions and make sure we have vegetables and whole grains.

Michael is picking up where his brother left off by spreading the message of early detection. “Unless people really want the pain of losing someone close to them, they have to raise awareness,” Michael says struggling to control his trembling voice. “You just have to tap a guy or gal on the shoulder and ask, ‘Did you get yours done?’”

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