Crab fisherman's personal life-saving colonoscopy

Patient Stories | March 17, 2017
Larry has spent a lifetime in one of the deadliest careers. But the real danger he faced wasn't at sea.

Larry Ryser’s medical survival story is not even remotely as dramatic or harrowing as the many he’s experienced at sea. In contrast with his tales of enduring long hours, intense conditions and unpredictable weather as a commercial fisherman, his account of receiving life-saving care seems quite mundane.

The Alaska native’s fishing career began 50 years ago (at the tender age of 12), starting with crabbing on the weekends and salmon fishing in the summers. It evolved to include unbelievable adventures on the Bering Sea and included up to 20 hours a day of hard work. He was even featured on season 5 of Deadliest Catch.

The fisherman’s lifestyle didn’t always afford Larry opportunities to seek medical care, but he felt fortunate to be in good health. An unexpected wakeup call quickly taught him not to take this health for granted. He watched as a dear friend, fellow fisherman and mentor, Duke, died of colon cancer. He was at Duke’s side for his last week of life.

Larry had no symptoms, but he didn’t want to press his luck any longer. In September of 2015, Larry decided it was time to go in for a routine colonoscopy.

This colonoscopy revealed and removed a large, aggressive polyp full of early cancer cells. Fortunately for Larry, all of the early cancer cells were still inside of the polyp; therefore, colon surgery was not needed after the large polyp was removed.

Larry’s gastroenterologist, Natasha Muckova, MD, reports that if he hadn’t been screened, he would have developed cancer and likely ended up needing an invasive surgery and a colostomy bag.

Instead, Larry was back to his extreme lifestyle immediately. A colonoscopy a year later revealed that he was free of all pre-cancerous cells.

Dr. Muckova likens colonoscopies to routine car maintenance; one should never wait for symptoms because it’s often too late. Guidelines specify that colon cancer screenings start at 45 years of age for African-American patients, and 50 years of age for all other groups. This may be even earlier for patients who have family history of early-onset colon cancer in any first or second degree relatives.

Larry now encourages others to get their colonoscopies. After all, one never knows what this simple procedure might “catch.”