Finding colon cancer during a much-delayed colonoscopy

Colon cancer survivor Laurie has a message for those 45 and older who are putting off their colonoscopy: "Take responsibility for your health and schedule this simple test now."

Laurie, 57, put off her colonoscopy for several years, believing that she would know if something was wrong in her body. She was wrong.

At the urging of her HonorHealth gastroenterologist, Deepa Shah, MD, she finally agreed to have the test. Barely into the colonoscopy, Dr. Shah discovered a tumor so large that she could go no farther in Laurie's intestine.

"Dr. Shah said, 'you are checking into the hospital now,'" Laurie said. "I had no time to think. I had always been fearful of surgery, but Dr. Shah and my surgeon, Helen Hall, MD, who specializes in colon and rectal surgery, made sure that I was safe and comfortable." Dr. Hall performed Laurie’s surgery for stage III colon cancer at HonorHealth Scottsdale Thompson Peak Medical Center.

Listen to Laurie's story

Eight months and 12 chemotherapy sessions later, Laurie was cancer free.

Dr. Shah suggested a colonoscopy several times before Laurie agreed to do it. "Sometimes it takes multiple attempts to convince a patient to undergo a screening colonoscopy. Persistence and encouragement are important as well as developing a trusting relationship," said Dr. Shah. "Fortunately, Laurie’s cancer was detected at a stage in which surgery and chemo can cure it."

Laurie’s symptoms were so gradual that even though she exercises and eats healthy foods, she didn’t notice what was happening in her body. She suffered from constipation and gas, but she chalked those conditions up to what she was eating.

'Cancer takes over your life'

"Like a lot of people, I was embarrassed to have a colonoscopy," Laurie said. "I mean, you are in a vulnerable position, and you have to drink that awful-tasting liquid to get ready for the test. But cancer is more embarrassing than a colonoscopy because it’s so invasive. It takes over your life."

Laurie believes her attitude after learning she had stage III cancer was essential to her recovery. "I’m good at paying attention to what’s really important," she said. "The cancer made me angry, so I stayed focused on returning to health. You have to be aggressive and not let it into your life."

Despite the chemo treatments, Laurie stayed healthy throughout treatment. She was never nauseous.

Her advice to those who have put off a colonoscopy? “You need to own the responsibility for your health and understand what that means. A colonoscopy is a simple test that you won’t even remember. A little embarrassment is far better than a life-threatening cancer diagnosis".

Now, Laurie looks forward to watching her grandchildren grow up and graduate from college.

"I won’t ever be embarrassed to have a colonoscopy again,” she said. “It’s more important to be alive."

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