John J. York‘s GENERAL HOSPITAL character, Mac, appeared on GH: NIGHT SHIFT to support his brother, Robert, during colon surgery earlier this month. Robert ended up with a colostomy. York saw an opportunity to raise awareness about serious yet little-discussed diseases like colon cancer, Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Soap Opera Weekly: Why do you feel so strongly about this issue?
John J. York: It’s important because I have had ulcerative colitis since I was 15 years old. At 15 or 16, I just wanted to play football. The technology was different way back then, in 1976. They were just getting into different types of medication, so doctors tried medication before giving me a colostomy.
Weekly: And that worked out for you?
York: It went pretty well. I’ve had a few flare-ups throughout my life. This is so incredible, how this [storyline] overlapped, the fantasy and reality.
Weekly: How do you raise awareness of these conditions?
York: In November, I am going to Houston to talk to a group of young people who suffer from Crohn’s and colitis, and tell them that they can overcome it. Attitude is the most important thing. The next most important thing is following your doctor’s orders. You have to watch what you eat and really watch your body. [With some foods,] even though your mind is saying, “Boy, I love that!” your stomach is saying, “No!” Your colon and your intestines say, “No!” You have to be aware and make the right choices so you can have a comfortable life — which you can.
Weekly: How can people tell if they might have colon problems?
York: I recommend a colonoscopy — at least if you are approaching 50. Go in there. It’s a peace-of-mind issue. It takes a day of fasting, then you get the procedure, and they say, “You are clean as a whistle. See you in five or 10 years!” I have one every 18 months. I’m at a higher risk of getting colon cancer than anyone with a normal colon because of my colitis. I go more regularly, and they check it out, give me a clean bill of health, and say, “See you later!”
Weekly: Are there groups that offer more information?
York: There is an organization called the CCFA — the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America — that has a Web site (www.ccfa.org). They have great support groups and a lot of information about the diseases, diets, new medication and all types of things.
Weekly: Do you feel like you’re making a difference?
York: Colon cancer is one of the most preventable diseases if caught soon enough, and it’s also one of the deadliest if not [prevented]. I ran into someone who told me, “I read that you have colitis and you overcame it. To make a long story short, that story really inspired me, because I have colitis, and it inspired me to take a different look at my life and go on.” That made me feel good. You don’t always think about lives you’ve touched when you are “just” talking.
Visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America at www.ccfa.org.