Getting Through a Cancer Scare
As Mary Biunno waited to be rolled into surgery in early December, she was scared and anxious—and she had every reason to be. Members of both sides of her family had a history of colon cancer, and she knew what they went through. But despite her best and most conscientious efforts—including, at times, yearly colonoscopies—she found herself on the verge of entering the operating room to have a suspicious lesion removed. She knew all too well what that could mean.
In the midst of these dark thoughts, Mary’s long-time gastroenterologist, Dr. Judith Lin, approached her gurney. “She squeezed my hand and reassured me,” Mary recalled. “She told me that whatever the results were, we were going to get through this together. Her coming by meant so much to me I cried.”
For Dr. Lin, providing this kind of emotional support is an inextricable part of what it means to be a physician. “When patients hear terms like polyp or growth or especially surgery, alarm bells go off,” Dr. Lin said. “I try to do my best to set their minds at ease.”
The Best Christmas Present Ever
A month earlier, Mary had undergone a routine colonoscopy in Dr. Lin’s office. “On the exam, I saw a small irregularity that I hadn’t seen during previous colonoscopies,” Dr. Lin said. In ordinary circumstances, Dr. Lin would have removed it, but it was in a position where removal would cause bleeding. Dr. Lin sent Mary to see Dr. Farshard Mansouri, a colorectal surgeon, to have it taken out and sent to a pathologist for identification.
“Despite what Dr. Lin told me, I was convinced Dr. Mansouri was going to say we would wait and do another colonoscopy in a few months,” Mary said, but this was definitely not what he had in mind. “The way you prevent colon cancer or, if it’s there, nip it in the bud is to act quickly when you see something suspicious—and that was what was needed here,” Dr. Mansouri said. “If the abnormality is benign, so much the better. As a patient you gain peace of mind.”
As it turned out, that is what the procedure provided Mary. About 10 days after the procedure and a week before the holidays, she returned to Dr. Mansouri’s office for a follow-up. “I felt more than a little trepidation as I sat in the waiting room, but even before I sat down, he told me that everything was wonderful and clean,” she said. “It was the best Christmas present I ever had in my life.”
Mary knows she is fortunate, but whatever the outcome, she always felt she was in good hands. “I’ve been a patient of Dr. Lin’s for almost 10 years, and I trust her implicitly,” Marysaid. “When she recommended Dr. Mansouri, I knew he would be as considerate and as professional. They both provided exceptional care in a trying situation.”
Regular Screening Is the Key to Colon Cancer Prevention
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer among adults in the United States and the second most deadly. If detected early, however, it can almost always be cured. And when precancerous polyps are removed, it can also be prevented. “The problem is that colon cancer is asymptomatic in its early stages,” Dr. Mansouri notes. “You just don’t know you have it until it is too late.”
That’s why regular colonoscopies are so important. For the average person with no special risk factors, physicians recommend beginning at age 50 and repeating regularly depending on the results. For patients like Mary with a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of polyps, they may recommend earlier and more frequent colonoscopies.
And while Dr. Mansouri admits colonoscopies are perhaps the least loved of cancer screening tests, he points out that patients are entirely comfortable during the procedure. “ The bottom line is that a colonoscopy can save your life,” he said. “If we could convince the third of the population who have never had a colonoscopy to be screened, we could save many more lives.”