Husband honors spouse who died from colon cancer by raising awareness

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 4:58 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Andy Estal had a smile that could brighten anyone’s day. He was easy going, fun-loving. His greatest joy was spending time with his husband. One of their last wedding anniversaries was memorable but not for the reasons you would expect.

Andy and his husband, Jeff Phillips had just flown back into the country in April of 2018. That’s when life took an unexpected turn.

“A day after our fifth wedding anniversary, he woke up the next morning and he says ‘Jeff, I think I need to go to the emergency room.’ And I really thought it was appendicitis.”

It was not. It was much worse. Aside from the pain that morning, Andy had no signs something was terribly wrong inside his body.

“We went from no symptoms -- traveling the world -- and in a matter of three and half to four hours -- stage four colon cancer,” Jeff says.

Andy, like many of the over 50,000 people who die of colorectal cancer every year, thought colonoscopies were for people over 50. He was only 48. Plus, there was nothing to suspect colon cancer.

“There was no blood in the stool -- there were no issues -- there was no weight loss. For all intense and purposes, he was healthy as a horse,” says Jeff.

Just a couple days shy of exactly two years from his diagnosis, Andy died April 27, 2021. It was Andy and Jeff’s 8th wedding anniversary.

Ana Brown knows the colon cancer story all too well. She lost her sister, her best friend, in 2011. Julie Brown was only 41.

A year after her death, Ana started the Blue Ribbon Run to raise awareness and money.

“All of the money that we receive from our amazing sponsors not only goes to an endowment that we have established at UNC Lineberger but we very much not only emotionally but financially help those on our community battling colerectal cancer,” Ana says.

Ana did not know Andy. But she heard his story and she went to his hospital room.

“We don’t know how she found out but she found out that we were going through this,” Jeff says. “She came to our room like an angel with an orchid -- put an orchid in our room and told us about the foundation.”

Andy and Jeff became a huge part of the race in 2021. Andy’s Army was the largest team in the history of the Blue Ribbon Run.

It would be Andy’s last race.

“He passed away about a month after the race last year,” Ana says.

While the race continues to grow, unfortunately, the number of people dying from colon cancer grows, too.

Over 100,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed this year with colorectal cancer. More than half of them will die.

Since so more people under 50 are dying from colon cancer, the American Cancer Society has changed the recommendation for annual colonoscopies from age 50 to 45.

The ACS made the change in May 2018 -- one more after Andy’s diagnosis.

“If that recommendation had been in place at the time we needed it, I think he would still be alive today,” Jeff says referring to his husband, Andy.

Both Jeff and Ana agree on this -- regardless to the recommended age for colonoscopies, listen to your body.

“Everyone knows their own body,” Ana says. “If you know that something is different, it is at that point that it is OK to raise your hand and say lets just get this checked out because it could really save your life.”

Jeff says losing the love of his life has inspired him to encourage others to take care of themselves.

“None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but we can do things to help make tomorrow a more potential reality,” he says. “Get your colonoscopy.”

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