NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Colon cancer is the number two cancer killer in the United States, with only lung cancer affecting more people, but it’s very curable and even preventable – if you get screened early and often.
CBS 2’s Max Gomez spoke to someone who learned that lesson the hard way – a musician who’s channeling his inner “Beatle.”
On stage, he’s a rock star, playing the part of George Harrison. Backstage and behind the scenes, however, he’s 58-year-old Mark Vaccacio, and he’s dying from terminal colon cancer.
“Do I have terminal cancer? Yes I do. Am I dying tomorrow? No, I’m not,” Vaccacio said.
About one year ago, doctors found two tumors – one the size of a softball – in Vaccacio’s colon. He felt no pain, and only suffered a loss of appetite.
Now, Vaccacio said he also suffers a growing anger with himself for not doing his part to stay healthy. With a family history of the disease, the Beatles impersonator said he should have known better.
“I was a bonehead to not keep up with my colonoscopies, and as a result…this will kill me,” he said.
Life is very different these days for Vaccacio. He wears an ileostomy bag that has to be emptied immediately before and after shows, and he has an IV line in his right arm for a saline drip that keeps him hydrated.
On stage, though, when the music starts to surge through him, Vaccacio said it’s all worth it.
“Once you get up there, you’re in your own cocoon, and it’s lovely,” he said.
Vaccacio said that while the cancer is killing him, the disease has given his life new purpose, and the chance to hopefully save others.
“I’m on a quest now to tell people, ‘get your colonoscopy,’” he said. “I’ve had a great life, but if I can help at the very end here, I’ll die more at peace.”
Vaccacio has already saved one life. His sister, Francine Mellusi, was inspired to get checked, and doctors found small tumors in her colon just in time.
“I am so proud of him,” Mellusi said. “I can’t believe the strength that he has shown throughout all of this.”
Vaccacio’s daughter said this year has been surreal, and watching her father perform has proven bittersweet.
“We knew that we had to get him back on stage, because we felt that that’s where he belongs,” Christina Vaccacio said.
“When you put the suit on, put the wig on, and you’re portraying this great, great Beatles music – the Beatles, beautiful music they made – it’s an honor, it’s an honor,” Vaccacio said.
Colon cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms until it’s pretty far along. The American Cancer Society recommends that most people have screening tests beginning at age 50.
Those who have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, or have inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or colitis, should ask their doctor about starting screenings earlier.
The Beatles show is called “Strawberry Fields,” and it’s held every Saturday at noon at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square.