Race car driver John Andretti passed away on January 30, 2020, after a battle with colon cancer that lasted several years. He will be remembered for his philanthropy and his kindness to his teammates and friends, but he will be best known as a versatile race car driver that took part in many different racing styles and tournaments over the years. From his early days in karting to his last race in 2011 in the Indianapolis 500, Andretti had a long and memorable career in the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits, as well as several different other types of racing events.
John’s Early Years and Races
John was born into a famous racing family, as the nephew of world-famous Mario Andretti, and the son of Aldo Andretti, also a renowned race car driver. From a young age, John was poised to be a driver just like his uncle and father and began racing karts from a young age. When he grew a little older, he began to race USAC midget cars as well as stock cars. By 1986, his interest in racing was full-fledged, and he joined BMW North America for their IMSA GTP season. With Davy Jones as his partner, Andretti scored his first racing win at Watkins Glen that year.
Following his win, he teamed up with his uncle and his cousin Michael for the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans event, placing sixth overall. In 1989, during the IMSA season, he won the Daytona 24 Hours event along with Derek Bell and Bob Wollek.
Indy and NASCAR Career
In the early 1990s, Andretti switched his focus to IndyCar racing and raced for Porsche in 1990, and Jim Hall for the 1991 and 1992 seasons. He won the event at the 1991 Gold Coast IndyCar Grand Prix at Surfer's Paradise in Australia, which was his only open-wheel victory throughout his career.
In 1994, Andretti switched to the NASCAR Cup Series races, although he didn’t completely count IndyCar racing out. In fact, he intended to race “The Double” - meaning that he wanted to race both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, which takes place on the same day. He competed in the Indy 500 and made it to the Coca-Cola track; however, his engine failed, and he couldn’t participate in the race. In 1997, he’d experience his first NASCAR victory at the Pepsi 400. Andretti, throughout his racing career, would remain an IndyCar driver predominantly, but he participated in NASCAR full-time until 2003, and sporadically until 2010, He fully retired from all circuits in 2011.
Post-Racing and Colon Cancer Diagnosis
Following his racing career, John co-hosted a racing show on Sirius XM Radio on the NASCAR channel, along with John Kernan. Also, each year during the “Backyard 400” week, he would partner with a local radio station and Dave "The King" Wilson to raise money for a local Indiana children’s hospital, the Riley Children’s Hospital.
Andretti first received his colon cancer diagnosis in April of 2017. It was initially misdiagnosed as stage III colon cancer, which has a better chance of survival than stage IV, which is what he was ultimately diagnosed with. John was very public about his diagnosis and took to social media, particularly Twitter, with the hashtag #CheckIt4Andretti, urging followers and fans to get their colonoscopies on time. In 2017, the suggested age to get a colonoscopy was 50, and John had just turned 54 when he received his diagnosis.
After aggressive chemotherapy,, it appeared that John was cancer-free by late 2017, but, unfortunately, by mid-2018, it had returned. After more aggressive chemotherapy, doctors were hopeful John was once again cancer-free, but cancer returned in 2019, and John passed away on January 30, 2020.
Why Is Early Detection So Important?
It is vitally important to schedule your colonoscopy on time. Colon cancer is the second-deadliest form of cancer in the United States today. This is mostly in part because it is virtually unnoticeable until the disease has already progressed. There are no noticeable symptoms of colon cancer until it has progressed to its later stages. The only foolproof way to detect colon cancer in its early stages is to have a colonoscopy.
John’s cancer was stage IV when it was diagnosed. Stage IV colon cancer has roughly a 10 percent chance of survival. If colon cancer is detected in stage I, patients have an 80 to 95 percent chance of survival. If it is found in stage II, a 55 to 80 percent chance of survival. There are different levels of stage III, but generally, there is about a 40 percent chance of survival for patients. At stage IV, colon cancer often metastasizes to other organs, which is what causes the sharp decrease in survival rate.
When colon cancer is discovered matters very much. Until 2018, the American Cancer Society suggested that both men and women first be screened for colon cancer beginning at age 50. However, as of May 2018, the ACA lowered the screening guidelines from age 50 to age 45. This is because of the prevalence of so many cases of younger people developing colon cancer.
It’s easy to put off a colonoscopy. You know you have to prep. You might have to take off a day from work. It’s not something you’re looking forward to. You’ve heard about take-home tests that might work just as well without all the prep and mess. There are reasons why colonoscopy remains the gold standard for the detection of colon cancer or colorectal cancer (cancer of both the colon and rectum).
The best thing about colonoscopy is it is the only diagnostic test that can detect and remove cancer all during the same procedure. While take-home tests can identify some forms of colon cancer, what they cannot do is remove polyps. Should you have cancerous polyps in their early stages, the physician can use the colonoscope to remove the polyps during the procedure. A colonoscopy is a simple outpatient procedure, and you may return home one to two hours after the procedure has finished. While it does require some prep the night before, it is a simple procedure that could be life-saving.
If you’re in your early 40s, it’s a worthwhile idea to bring up the topic of colonoscopy with your doctor now. If you have a family history of colon cancer, bowel disturbances such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or a history of polyps, you may be eligible to test even sooner than age 45. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment at Carolina Digestive now.