Health & Nutrition Struck by cancer, and on a mission

Struck by cancer, and on a mission


John M. Nappi just wants people to say “yes,” and with whatever time he has remaining, Nappi doesn’t plan on taking “no” for an answer.

Nappi, 64, is adamant that people take the steps necessary to undergo a colonoscopy, the procedure that detects colorectal cancer, which happens to be the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world. Not only does Nappi have colorectal cancer, as he discovered in early March, but it’s stage 4 and, he says, incurable. The Scarborough resident, who also discovered that he has lung cancer, never bothered to undergo a colonoscopy, which usually requires part of the day previous to the test ingesting a strong laxative that keeps people close to the bathroom much of that time. That 24 hours of discomfort, which includes fasting, has been known to deter people from getting a colonoscopy.

“I didn’t think I needed it,” said Nappi, who also suffers from diabetes. “I wanted to deal with one issue at a time. I just kept coming up with excuses. I’m like a lot of other guys.”

Nappi said doctors have given him six months to live, if he does nothing. Chemotherapy for the lung cancer might give Nappi some extra time, but he wanted to make sure, after one dose, that it did not compromise his quality of life.

Nappi said on March 19 that he and doctors decided to place a catheter in his neck sometime within the next week and begin chemotherapy.

“I decided to do the first round, to see what effect it has on my qualify of life,” he said.

“Chemo could compromise my immune system and make my diabetes worse,” Nappi said. “At first I just wanted it over, but I’ll give one round of chemo a try. I’m not planning to have the tumor taken out now because it takes four to six weeks to recover, and it would be much harder for the chemo to help the lung cancer. Doctors might revisit down the road to see what effect the chemo is having,” he said.

Nappi has been in and out of the hospital for months, for various reasons.

Last summer, doctors removed one of his toes, a complication from his diabetes. Nappi also was enduring diarrhea, which doctors told him could be a side effect of the surgery, he said.

In late February, Nappi was vomiting, and returned to the hospital. The diarrhea had not gone away.

“They said I had C. diff (Clostridium difficile), a bacterial infection,” Nappi said in mid-March. “A week ago, I tested negative for C. diff. The doctor at Maine Medical Center ordered a colorectal exam.”

What they found was a cancerous tumor in Nappi’s colon, and more.

“They found a tumor 5 inches long, and it’s about ready to close off my colon,” he said. “The colon cancer has spread to the lungs, but the liver is healthy. It’s metastasized.”

Nappi said that doctors feel “pretty sure” the colon cancer is related to the lung cancer.

“Stage 4 colon cancer is the most serious,” Nappi said. “It’s not curable.”

Nappi, who lives with his two dogs, left the hospital on March 8. He is doing his best to live his life, going to one of his favorite places, the Prides Corner Flea Market in Westbrook, on Saturdays.

In addition to his “just say yes” message, Nappi also can attest to the importance of paying attention to family history. His mother, Marilla, died of pancreatic cancer. His father, Joseph, died of skin cancer and his brother Joseph has had a cancerous kidney and lung removed.

So, Nappi had even more reason to be vigilant regarding cancer screenings. He doesn’t bemoan his condition, but dearly wants to be a messenger.

“I’m fine about it,” Nappi said. “I’m OK. I hope the reason I can have the chemo is to help other people with my story.”

Nappi and his father once worked in the antiques business. He got around.

“I know a lot of people from my antiques business, and I want them to know my slogan,” he said. “There’s no such thing as you can’t afford a colonoscopy. It’s covered. There are no excuses. I won’t tolerate a “no” from anybody I know. Just say yes.”

Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.

John M. Nappi, enjoying one of his favorite places, the Prides Corner Flea Market in Westbrook, is dedicated to urging people to undergo a colonoscopy.


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