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MedWatch: National Cancer Survivors Month

June is National Cancer Survivors Month, and more than 570,000 individuals can celebrate as part of that group in Michigan.

But the key to survival is early detection, and Munson Healthcare wants patients to know it’s safe to come in and get screened.

Michelle Dunaway and Corey Adkins share the story of one woman’s fight in today’s MedWatch report.

Cindy Timmer’s days of retirement were filled with kayaking, endless beaches, her golden retrievers and her husband of more than a half century. But those dreams of idyllic relaxation came with a few more obstacles than expected.

“My current diagnosis is stage 4 colon cancer. The best news about that is my oncologist Kristian Koller at Cowell [Family Cancer Center] has stated that I am oligometastatic, as a patient who has shown no sign of cancer activity since my surgery and post-chemo,” said Cindy.

But, she continues, there is still plenty of uncertainty. “Realistically the lymph node involvement assumes that we will have recurrence.”

Today, Cindy is living the best life she can -and hopes her story will impact others.

“I have a history of family polyps on my father’s side so I was getting regular screenings through my 50s and 60s,” explained Cindy.

Cindy was doing everything right until she developed a C-diff infection from antibiotics.

The bacterium causes an inflammation of the colon.

“I would have periods of loose stool post-meal and as long as I didn’t have a fever, and it didn’t last past 3 days, we all kind of accepted that as my new normal. Then, Thanksgiving of 2017, my husband noticed my absolute regularity of post meal diarrhea and restless leg syndrome,” explained Cindy.

She had a colonoscopy the day after Christmas.

Cindy says the results weren’t good, “The photos showed I had a shrimp-like tumor in my ascending colon from that point on 2018 changed.”

Doctors removed the tumor and the lymph nodes where the cancer metastasized, but beyond the physical, this is where Cindy’s battle really began. She was recovering from major surgery. “So, I really was bedridden and I was dealing with physical changes, but emotionally I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I could not be here very long and I was really wondering how painful this was all going to be.”

Colon cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the American Cancer Society is recommending everyone start screening at 45 — it used to be 50.

Dr. Richard Tooley says, “There aren’t early signs of colon cancer. It’s a very silent disease because it’s internal, that’s why screening plays such a huge role because if you wait until symptoms develop, many times the disease is way more advanced.”

Colon cancer starts with polyps that develop into tumors. People with a family history of polyps are more at risk.

The very best way to protect yourself is to get screened, yet only 70% of people are doing so. While there are a few different options, Dr. Tooley says he really only recommends one.

“By far the best test I believe is a colonoscopy. It really is the gold standard.  It has the highest detection rate for polyps, you can actually do something about the disease, you can remove the polyp you can prevent the disease from occurring many times.”

In hindsight, Cindy says some signs were there. “It was not obvious to me, I felt that my schedule of colonoscopies every 3 years was appropriate, but now looking back, I realize I should have mentioned things like restless leg syndrome or the diarrhea is now recorded on my calendar as wow almost 3 times a week.”

Today she’s back to dog walks, cross country skiing and hoping to get out on the water this summer, but she also plans to spread her message to others. “It seems embarrassing when you think of even discussing these symptoms, but realistically your whole family should be discussing this as just part of an annual exam question because if you think you’re embarrassed about having a colonoscopy because you have these symptoms you haven’t even begun to realize what will happen if you don’t discuss them.”


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