Fayetteville resident Beth Phillips, RN, was only 47 when she was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer, making her three years younger at the age of diagnosis than the recommended age to start colonoscopy screenings.
“People assume when they hear the words, ‘colon cancer’ that it is a disease that only affects older adults,” said Phillips. “That is not the case. There are people right here in our community who were diagnosed in their forties and even younger, including myself.”
Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, an estimated 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I don’t know if there’s a word for what I had felt, but it was totally unexpected,” said Phillips. “As a nurse, I knew my prognosis was not great. However, I thought: I’m not a statistic, I’m a person and I’m going to fight this any way that I can. One step at a time is all you can do.”
To get better, Phillips had to undergo a colon resection, complete hysterectomy, pelvic radiation, 24 rounds of chemo, a liver resection and removal of right kidney, ureter and part of her bladder. Phillips now shows no evidence of the disease, runs a colorectal cancer support group and encourages others to get screened.
“The inconvenience of a colonoscopy is nothing compared to the treatment of stage four colon cancer,” said Phillips, who spent her 25th wedding anniversary in the hospital. “Colon cancer should not be a taboo topic. Talk about it with family and friends. Find out if you have a family history and urge others to get screened.”
According to the CDC, 60 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be avoided if everyone who is 50 years or older would be screened regularly.
“Many people have precancerous polyps or even colorectal cancer and don’t know because it doesn’t always cause symptoms,” said Jonathan Bender, M.D., medical director of the Piedmont Fayette Hospital Cancer Center. “It is important for those 50 years and older to be screened regularly and those with a family history to start screenings at an even younger age.”
Phillips, who had no family history of the disease, says life has changed since she was diagnosed in 2007.
“It was hard to adjust to my ‘new normal,’” said Phillips. “I don’t have as much energy now and I eat differently. Diet plays a huge role in colon cancer recurrence and so, eating right is a must.”
Phillips, who holds a master’s degree in counseling, started a support group with Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Fayette about a year and a half ago. The group, which has grown to about 20 members in attendance, meets every first Monday of the month at Piedmont Fayette Hospital.
Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Fayette offers other free services and programs to anyone affected by cancer at any phase in the cancer journey. Professionally-led programs include education, relaxation and stress reduction, movement and exercise, expressive arts, meditation, support groups, individual nutritional and psychological counseling, cooking demos and social events.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include blood in the stool, stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away and weight loss for no apparent reason. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. Those experiencing symptoms should consult a doctor.
For more information about colorectal cancer or Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Fayette, visit piedmontcancer.org.