How Well Do You Know Your Colon?

Fran Miller was visiting her daughter at Mercy Hospital Springfield when she suddenly lost her breath while walking in. She knew something was wrong when she had to make a few stops.

“I had to sit down in the parking lot, and then again in the lobby,” the 67-year-old recalled. “So my doctor at Mercy took blood samples and found that I was bleeding internally.” Days later, a colonoscopy pinpointed a cancerous tumor that had been growing for a few years. “I’d never had that procedure before, because I had no idea I needed it. It was growing so slowly that it wasn’t even on my radar.”

A week later, Miller had about 12 inches of her colon removed through surgery at Mercy. “Soon after, I had a CAT scan that confirmed the cancer hadn’t spread to other parts of my body. My surgeon, Dr. Brooks, literally saved my life.”

One in 20 people risk being diagnosed with colon cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The ACS expects 50,000 lives to be lost from the cancer this year alone. So why the high number? “Many people wait until the symptoms start and by that time, it can be well advanced,” said Mandy Gray, oncology program coordinator for Mercy Springfield.

Overall, the ACS reports the death rate from colon cancer – also known as colorectal cancer – does continue to drop, likely because it’s being spotted earlier and at a time when the disease is easier to cure. “It’s all about early detection,” said Gray. “Lots of people still don’t have colonoscopies when they should, or they’re not following the recommendations of their physicians to get properly screened.”

To encourage screenings and commemorate March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Mercy Cancer Resource Center and the American Cancer Society are once again partnering with Hy-Vee to provide colon health education with a free, “Know Your Colon” event on Saturday, March 7. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., attendees can learn about colon health, cancer prevention and early detection. Mercy will have a team of experts on hand, including a nurse navigator who works directly with cancer patients, Mercy’s medical librarian, and dietitians performing body mass index (BMI) and body fat assessments. There will also be two free fitness classes (registration required); to register, call Hy-Vee at 417-881-1950.

“Even if you don’t think you have it, get screened or get a colonoscopy,” said Miller, who now sees her oncologist every three months. “Now I get a colonoscopy every three years to stay healthy.”

To learn more about cancer care at Mercy Springfield, click here.

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