As we observe Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, one survivor shares her story about learning the importance of not putting off a recommended colonoscopy.
Did you know?
It is recommended that men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer begin getting screened starting at age 50. Individuals with an increased or high risk of colorectal cancer might need to start colorectal cancer screening before age 50 and/or be screened more often. Talk to your doctor about your health history and risk.
One of the most important screenings recommended when people turn 50 is a colonoscopy. The lining of your colon is checked for polyps or cancer. By finding and removing polyps early, colon cancer may be prevented.
Cherry Cunningham had her first colonoscopy in 2004 and everything was fine. In 2014, she was due for her next one. But she wasn’t having any symptoms, and was busy with living life and running her counseling practice. Then her mother became ill and passed away in October 2016. When Cunningham began to feel sick shortly after, she believed it was from the stress of recently losing her mother. She had relief for several weeks but became ill again and was referred to Gastroenterologist Richard Saltz, MD, at Texoma Medical Center in December 2016.
Dr. Saltz ordered a colonoscopy right away and found some areas of concern — he could not get past a narrow part of Cunningham’s sigmoid colon. “Dr. Saltz contacted me and told me the pathology report came back as an adenoma (pre-cancerous polyp) with ‘moderate dysplasia.’ He immediately contacted General Surgeon Aaron Cernero, DO, who scheduled me for surgery on New Year’s Eve,” says Cunningham. “Dr. Cernero removed the affected areas and additional lymph nodes in that area as a precaution. The final pathology report indicated colon cancer.”
No matter what external things are going on in your life, do not ignore getting your screening colonoscopy. There is no excuse to not get one.
Oncologist Alex Ehsan, MD, prescribed a rigorous six-month treatment beginning in February 2017. “He gave me hope that I could beat this,” says Cunningham, who finished her treatment in August 2017. A licensed professional counselor with a Master’s degree in nursing, Cunningham is a monthly guest on a local TV show, and she thought it would be beneficial for others to follow her on her journey to beat cancer. “So many people contacted me and told me how helpful it was for them to follow me. It gave them hope for their own battle,” she says.
Cunningham had follow-up tests in September, and got the good news she was in remission and everything was fine. She has to have a colonoscopy within a year of the surgery, then every three years, in addition to a PET scan once a year and blood tests four times a year, but she is grateful to have her life back. “I was the first female vice president at Texoma Medical Center, so I know what goes into running a hospital. I had the most incredible care while I was here. Everyone tended to my every need, from dietary staff, to housekeeping, to the business office — they were just fabulous. I have so much respect for how this hospital is run,” Cunningham says.
She has a message for everyone who is of age to get a colonoscopy. “No matter what external things are going on in your life, do not ignore getting your screening colonoscopy. If I had had mine when I was supposed to, things would be quite different for me. My doctor kept reminding me, but I was too busy and feeling okay, until I wasn’t feeling okay. There is no excuse to not get one,” she says.