J. Ahnen

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Dennis J. AhnenDennis J. Ahnen

MD Remembered

Remembering Dennis Ahnen, MD.

Sadly, the world lost a great physician, leader, mentor, friend and devoted family man when Dr. Ahnen died on August 16, 2020 from cancer of the appendix which is a rare cancer that is difficult to detect. After a yearlong battle, he died at home with his family by his side.

Dennis attended medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and moved to Denver in 1977 to become a Fellow in Gastroenterology at the University of Colorado. He trained for two additional years at Stanford University and then moved back to Colorado in 1982 to join the CU faculty with an additional appointment at Veterans Hospital. Dennis received Research Merit Awards from the VA and the National Cancer Institute to study gut cell growth and the effect of drugs on colorectal carcinogenesis.

Dr. Ahnen was involved in large studies involving screening colonoscopy as well as the Colon Cancer Family Registry to improve recognition and management of hereditary cancer patients. He retired from the VA after 32 years as an academic gastroenterologist, but continued on at the University of Colorado faculty as Professor of Medicine until retirement in 2016. In 2017 he was appointed Professor Emeritus and helped establish the Hereditary Cancer Center at CU and later founded the Genetics Clinic at Gastroenterology of the Rockies.

Dennis decided early in his career that he wanted to improve screenings and dedicated his life to the prevention of colon cancer. He was involved in many national and international studies on colon cancer, served on several committees, and was honored for his research and leadership. He received the Research Mentor Award and the William Beaumont Prize from the American Gastroenterological Association (2020) and the Cancer Prevention and National Leadership Award (2018) as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award (2020) from the National Colorectal Roundtable. The Collaborative Group of the Americas awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award (2018) and he was also awarded the National Leadership Award (2017) and the Lifetime Achievement Award (2020) from the Colorado Cancer Coalition. The Dennis J. Ahnen Visiting Lectureship was established by the University of Colorado to honor Dr. Dennis Ahnen (2019).

Dennis loved being a mentor and researcher but he aslo found the time to enjoy playing baseball and spending time on the river trying to catch fish. He would always say it is the fishing, not the catching that is important. His greatest love, however, was his family. He married his high school sweetheart, Carol, in 1970 and called her the love of his life. They were lucky enough to have 50 incredible years together. Dennis was very proud of his three daughters Gina Subudhi, (Andy), Megan Faga (Matt) and Nicole Jacobs (Ben). When they all married, Dennis was thrilled to have such wonderful men join the family. Needless to say, the seven grandchildren were the joyful icing on the cake for him.

The fight to prevent colon cancer by improving screenings continues on. Dennis was a vital link in bringing awareness to the cause and was instrumental in helping lower the screening age for a colonoscopy to 45. The challenge to end colon cancer is not over, but those that Dennis mentored and many others will continue the effort and, hopefully, one day soon colon cancer will be a disease of the past.

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