WEST FARGO — Jeremy Miller, 50, is coming up on five weeks cancer-free.

Miller says he hit the "time in life" where he needed a colonoscopy earlier in 2021. He said the procedure was routine with no symptoms and believed nothing was wrong.

"The colonoscopy was easy," Miller said. "The prep for the colonoscopy? That's a little different story."

He jokes now, but he admits his mind was racing when he found out about his diagnosis.

"I went through a roller coaster of emotions," he said. "I was almost stunned, like, that can't be, it just can't. I don't feel anything, I didn't notice anything."

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Fargo Sanford Health gastroenterologist Dr. John Bassett saw Miller when he came in. He said more than 50,000 people die nationwide from colon cancer every year.

Since the 1990s, he said, there was a 51% increase in North Dakotans getting diagnosed with colon cancer before the age of 40.

Bassett said living a healthy lifestyle and getting checked are two of the best ways to prevent colon cancer.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was a 90% drop in colonoscopies and screenings nationwide, though it steadily picked back up.

"What we're trying to do is make sure the decrease in screenings that happened in the past year doesn't result in delayed diagnoses and increasing the death rate," Bassett said.

Miller said, without putting his health first, he may have missed out on an important part of life. He's a new father to a two-year-old son.

"My immediate thought was, 'I have a young son, I got a lot of things I have to teach him yet to be ready for this world,'" he said. "And if I got a short window to do it in, holy smokes."

Miller got his colonoscopy, cancer diagnosis, surgery and a hospital stay in less than two weeks.

He tells friends and family to always keep tabs on their health.

"I'm really grateful," he said. "The story could have taken such a different path so easily and so quickly."

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colon cancer is one of only two cancers that are preventable through screening.

Behind lung cancer, colon cancer is among the deadliest for men and women in the United States.