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Sasha Stefanov knows firsthand the importance of colonoscopy screenings.
The 39-year-old mother of three boys has worked for several years as a gastrointestinal nurse for a mobile anesthesia company in the Northwest Suburbs. She often worked with patients who underwent colonoscopies that detected cancer, but Sasha usually left her work at the office when arriving home to her family.
That changed, however, in late 2012 after Sasha started experiencing irregular bowel movements. While she felt great, Sasha's colleagues urged her to get a colonoscopy to ease her mind.
Sasha visited her physician who performed a colonoscopy in which Sasha was sedated. The physician examined the inside of the colon with a thin, flexible lighted tube with a tiny video camera on the end that sends pictures of the colon to a TV screen. After the colonoscopy was completed, her physician delivered some life-changing news.
"I was diagnosed with a very large polyp in the rectum," Sasha recalls.
Sasha's doctor determined the mass was too large for him to remove and recommended Sasha make an appointment with Willis Parsons, MD, medical director of the Gastroenterology Center at Northwest Community Hospital.
Dr. Parsons performed a colonoscopy and found a large, flat rectal polyp, which was removed endoscopically. The pathology revealed early-stage rectal cancer. Because the cancer had been removed endoscopically, other more invasive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy were not necessary.
"It is very satisfying to find a cancer at an early stage, especially on a young patient, and to be able to remove it endoscopically and prevent the need for major surgery," Dr. Parsons says. "The treatment was successful and her prognosis is excellent."
Sasha is on the road to recovery and knows she was lucky to have a colonoscopy when she did. "I am grateful that the cancer was caught in the nick of time and I didn't need chemotherapy or radiation," she says. "If I would have pushed this back a few months, it could have been a different story. I feel blessed and have a whole different outlook."
Sasha credits her decision to have a colonoscopy for the happy ending to her story. She will continue with surveillance colonoscopies fairly frequently for the next two years.
"Because of my experience as a GI nurse, I have always been an advocate for screening colonoscopies," Sasha says. "It doesn't matter how old you are; cancer doesn't discriminate. I was diagnosed at age 38."
Many of Sasha's patients often hesitated in scheduling colonoscopies because of the preparations needed the night before the procedure. But the preparations, which include following a special diet and taking a specific laxative to clean out the colon, are now much easier and less complicated than in the past.
"The preparations are a lot easier now," Sasha says. "When you come in for the colonoscopy, you have gone through 95 percent of the battle. In the grand scheme of things, a colonoscopy is such a life saver."