COLONOSCOPY? FINAL WISH OF BELOVED KEYS RESIDENTS WAS FOR MEN & WOMEN TO GET CHECKED OUT

Barry Gibson of Key West is no longer with us. The former Key West city commissioner, sunglasses-store owner and beloved family man died at age 61 on Feb. 22, 2022. Yet he is still sharing a message. He implored his widow, Trish Gibson, to give his deathbed advice—even within his obituary—to men and women ages 45 and older: Please get a colorectal exam.

“Barry’s final wishes are that you get a colonoscopy. Even women,” Trish told Keys Weekly, noting that women often overlook taking care of this part of their physical health — and are frequently not advised to get colonoscopies.

Just a few weeks after her husband’s passing, Trish is still in disbelief and grieves what could have been. In spring 2019, Barry hadn’t been feeling well. “He was breathy,” said Trish. Even brushing his teeth fatigued him. Barry decided to go for a round of health examinations. His heart was fine. Then came his colonoscopy. It was his first one.

“He was told he had stage 4 colon cancer. He was 58,” she said, her voice trailing off in emotion. “We were in shock. Disbelief. He never had a sick day in his life. We just started fighting and did everything possible to keep him alive. … But we were putting a Band-Aid on an open, gaping wound and we couldn’t save him.”

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society’s website cancer.org, “In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women. … Although the overall death rate has continued to drop, deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than 55 have increased 1% per year from 2008 to 2017.”

But, the website said, regular colorectal cancer screening is a “powerful” tool: “The ACS recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45… through the age of 75.”

When he was 44, Tavernier CPA and attorney Joe Catarineau promised a family friend who was fighting stage 4 colon cancer that he would get a colonoscopy at age 45. Catarineau ate well, worked out a lot, and enjoyed a loving family life and a prosperous business.

“I turned 45, and I thought, ‘I promised him that,’” remembered Catarineau, now 47. “At age 46 I did it, because of my promise to him. And lo and behold, I had stage 3 colorectal cancer. I was totally caught off-guard. Shocking news.”

Upon recommendation of friends, Catarineau went for treatment at Baptist MD Anderson in Jacksonville, one of the leading cancer care providers in the nation. Doctors surgically removed the tumor and started him on chemo right away, followed by radiation.

His medical team informed him that the chances were high that he would probably have to have his rectum removed, then wear a colostomy bag. But, Catarineau said, a miracle happened.

“Last November, I went back up to Jacksonville to meet with the surgeon for a pre-op (for the rectum-removal) surgery,” he said. “We did blood work, an MRI and a CT scan. And we found out the chemo and radiation treatments had eliminated the cancer. The doctors explained to me that I am one of the 3 percent of patients that this happens to. I go every three months to watch it closely. So far I’m clear.”

Catarineau credits his recovery to his wife, Missy; his daughters Kyla, Keeley and Kinsley; friends Cliff Glade and Bob Diloreto, both doctors, who helped him get into Baptist MD Anderson; his hospital nurses; prayer warriors; his dogs; and eating well, exercising and a positive mental state. And, perhaps most crucially, his colon cancer screening at age 46.

However, Key West’s Barry Gibson, who did not have colorectal cancer screenings starting in his 40s like Catarineau did, had a different outcome.

He put up a good fight for almost three years after his April 19, 2019, colon cancer diagnosis, said Trish. But still, he ended up entering hospice care. He went downhill fairly quickly after that. Yet Trish and their 14-year-old daughter, Taylor, count their blessings. They feel that, ironically, the pandemic was a gift to their family. They boated, fished and stone crabbed and enjoyed dinners together. 

“All this happened during COVID,” Trish said. “For the three of us, in a strange way, it was good for us.”

A celebration of Barry’s life will be held on Saturday, April 2 at 6 p.m. at the pavilion on Higgs Beach.For more information about colorectal cancer screening tests, go to cancer.org or call 800-227-2345.

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.