Shoppers wander through giant colon at Auburn Mall

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AUBURN — The first impulse is to crack a joke. We’re talking about a 20-foot colon, after all. It’s the part of the body that has been the butt of more jokes than any other.

“Yes, there have been a few amusing comments,” said Maureen Higgins, Cancer Health Outreach Educator at Central Maine Medical Center. “But that’s just fine. It gets people in here so we can educate them. It’s a serious situation, but it’s OK to have fun with it.”

The inflatable, 8-foot-high “Super Colon” was set up at the Auburn Mall on Thursday afternoon. To a kid, it looked like just another funhouse to walk through, a bouncy house with polyps.

Seven-year-old Will Hines peered in warily before making the journey through the tunnel-like colon.

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“He was hoping it wasn’t going to be gooey in there,” said his father, Nathan Hines. “It wasn’t.”

In fact, once you get around the idea that you are standing inside a giant colon, there is much to learn. There are sores and polyps on the walls, along with descriptions of what they are and how they are treated. Visitors get an up-close and super-magnified look at healthy tissue and tissue afflicted with colorectal diseases.

Sounds like the kind of thing a kid might wrinkle his nose at. But not Will Hines.

“He likes this stuff about the human body,” his father said. “He’s into science. He was in there looking at all the growths.”

A cancer specialist in the making, perhaps. Which would be welcome news to 53-year-old Neil Bement, who knows a thing or two about the workings of a colon.

“Colon cancer survivor times two, thank you very much,” he said. “A colonoscopy saved my life. I have more information and I’ve learned more about the colon than I ever wanted to.”

Bement made the journey through the Super Colon at the mall. He looked around and read the information. He compared it with his own experiences.

“It looks realistic, maybe a little bit cartoonish,” he said.

Cancer is about as serious a matter as you can get. But even Bement, who battled it so valiantly, had a few wisecracks about the giant colon, and he welcomed those with new material.

“It’s all about the attitude,” he said. “Using humor to defuse the fear of the unknown, that’s all right. Removing the stigma of the colonoscopy is a huge part of this.”

The Super Colon was designed as an interactive way for medics to teach people about the risks, symptoms, prevention, early detection and treatment options for colorectal cancer. It is taken from city to city, from state to state.

“It’s kind of like a rock star,” Higgins said.

The Super Colon was brought to Auburn by the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing at CMMC. Higgins said some folks came to see it because they, or someone they love, had suffered from cancer. Others just wandered by out of curiosity. They looked the Super Colon over the way some will check out a fancy car that’s set up in the center of a shopping mall.

So, while there were jokes and puns, most visitors got the message. Even 7-year-old Will Hines, who worried that it would be gooey. He came away with the idea that he might like to become a doctor someday.

“But,” said the boy’s father, “he said if he does become a doctor, he doesn’t want to be a proctologist.”

And so, lessons were learned. As is often the case when humor mingles with education, everything came out fine in the end.

mlaflamme@sunjournal.com

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