Friend's untimely death prompts couples' first colonoscopies

Pocatello residents Wendy and Justin Higbee, both 48, received what is often called a healthcare teachable moment when their dear friend, Nico Beebe, passed away from colon cancer at the age of 51. Nico left behind a husband, two grown children, a grandson and an extensive group of friends and family.

The profound loss reminded the Higbees of the fragility and temporary nature of life.

Nico’s journey

Wendy and Nico Beebe were coworkers in the Emergency Department at Portneuf Medical Center; Wendy as a registered nurse and Nico as a technician.

“I met Nico about 19 years ago,” said Wendy. “I got to know her while working together in the ED. She had such a beautiful soul. She and her family also lived just around the corner from us, so it wasn’t long before we became best friends.”

Around the age of 49, Nico had her first diagnostic colonoscopy, during which they discovered and removed a pre-cancerous polyp. Nico’s doctor told her to repeat the colonoscopy in 3 years and to notify them if she started developing any symptoms.

A year later, Nico started feeling a lot of fatigue, some dull pain and sometimes blood in her stools, but she kept these symptoms to herself.

“Through the power that our minds have, Nico was in great denial and did not want to be sick, so she postponed having the follow-up colonoscopy done,” states Wendy in a Facebook video she narrated about Nico and the importance of getting a colonoscopy.

By the time Nico had the second colonoscopy, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer that had spread to other areas of her body. With few options for treatment, doctors gave Nico 18 months to 2 years to live.

“So for those 2 years,” said Justin, “Nico made it her life's goal to tell people to get a colonoscopy and to follow up on their doctors’ advice.” “She became a passionate advocate for getting a colonoscopy,” said Wendy, “because she didn’t want others to suffer like she had.”

Wendy and Justin’s journey

Soon after Nico’s funeral, Wendy and Justin both scheduled their first colonoscopies with Jacob Wendling, DO, Portneuf Medical Group - Gastroenterolgy.

“As older parents,” said Wendy, “we are keenly aware that as Joshua gets older, we are more likely to have health problems that could impact our presence in his life. I knew that I had to do whatever it took to take care of my own health so that I could be around as long as possible as Josh's mom.”

Wendy had her colonoscopy and received good news: there were no polyps or any signs of cancer. She should, however, schedule another colonoscopy screening in about 10 years.

Justin, on the other hand, received different news.

“After doing all the preparation the night before, I went in for my colonoscopy,” said Justin. “There’s no history of colon cancer in my family and I didn’t have any symptoms, so I figured I was fine. They put me on the table, told me to lay on my side, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room.”

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Wendling came into the room to tell Justin that they found 4 polyps in his colon, which they removed. “He said 3 were pretty normal but that one concerned them. They would send it to pathology for evaluation. It came back as pre-cancerous,” said Justin.

Dr. Wendling told Justin that he should watch for any symptoms and to have another colonoscopy in 3 years. “That was just what they told Nico, so it freaked me out a little bit,” he said. “It’s been nearly 2 years since that first colonoscopy, so you can be sure I will make the appointment for the next screening soon!”

Picking up Nico’s banner

Wendy and Justin were very appreciative of the expertise and professionalism of Dr. Wendling and the entire staff. “They explained everything and made it easy to understand the next steps,” said Justin.

As the oldest of four siblings, Justin took it upon himself to follow in Nico’s footsteps and tell his brothers, sister and parents that they all needed a colonoscopy screening. “I have two physician assistants in the family and the other one's a school teacher, so they're all pretty smart. I don’t know if they have followed up and gone through with it, but I hope so,” he said.

Wendy continues to thank her friend Nico for spreading the word.

“I am eternally grateful to Nico for inspiring my husband and me to get our preventative screening colonoscopies,” Wendy said. “Thanks to her, my husband got his pre-cancerous polyps removed and won't have to endure the dreadful effects of having colon cancer. My son will have his father and I will have my husband.”

Going forward, the three of them will continue to enjoy their many family activities, including the best: reading to Joshua.

“We all snuggle together and read books to Joshua before bedtime,” said Wendy. “It’s one of our favorite things to do.”

We hope those family bedtime readings will continue for many years to come.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month will always be close to Portneuf Medical Center’s heart, so we are continuing Nico’s mission to raise awareness about this disease and the steps for prevention. If you are 45 or older and have never had a colonoscopy, schedule one today.

Read more and schedule your screening today at