A fit and healthy construction worker, Joseph Craig House hadn’t been to see his primary care physician in over a decade.
"I really don’t go to doctors,” says the 44-year-old, who owns his own company. “I’m never sick, except for maybe a cold once a year."
When he began to experience rectal bleeding, his wife Jana urged him to seek medical attention. But he continued to work and suffered for another year and a half.
"I shrugged it off as hemorrhoids,” he says. “I lift a lot of heavy stuff. I blew it off and kept procrastinating until it got really bad.”
Rather than go to a local hospital near his Will County home in Crest Hill, he decided to make the 53-minute drive to Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH), recalling the exceptional care his mother had received from Gastroenterologist Willis Parsons, M.D., Medical Director of the NCH Gastroenterology Center.
In the late spring of 2017, Joseph underwent an endoscopy and colonoscopy with Dr. Parsons.
"He found two small polyps and one pretty big one,” Joseph recalls. “Two were in my colon and one was where my rectum and colon meet."
During the colonoscopy, Dr. Parsons removed the large polyp and performed a biopsy.
"He said it was cancer and sent me to see Dr. Pinchot," Joseph says.
NCH Medical Group Colorectal Surgeon Scott Pinchot, M.D. performed a laparoscopic surgery that allowed Joseph to return to work within two weeks. Portions of Joseph’s colon and rectum, in addition to some lymph nodes, were removed.
"While the polyp looked to be completely removed, it was too close for comfort so we performed a resection of that segment of colon to make sure that the lymph nodes were not involved,” Dr. Pinchot says.
Dr. Pinchot treats all colorectal cancer cases aggressively as long as patients can tolerate treatment.
"With Joseph, we wanted to be maximally aggressive in ensuring that the tumor was removed and the lymph nodes were clear so that we could promise him a long, disease-free survival."
Two of Joseph's lymph nodes ended up testing positive for cancer.
"The cancer had already demonstrated spread to the lymph nodes and would have likely spread to additional organs like the liver or lungs if aggressive surgery had not been performed," Dr. Pinchot says.
Joseph was impressed by how quickly his treatment plan was arranged.
"When I went for my very first appointment, they did scans and blood work," he says. "It was so fast and efficient, like a one-stop shop. Within two or three hours, they had everything figured out and scheduled."
Since Joseph is the sole provider for his wife and two young daughters, he expressed his desire to get back to work after the surgery before starting chemotherapy. Joseph learned how the surgery would be performed and how chemotherapy would follow later.
"It was the summer and that is my busiest time of the year," Joseph says. "I had to say, 'If I'm not dying, I have to keep working.'"
After working through the summer of 2017, he returned to undergo three months of chemotherapy. He was impressed with his Hematology/Oncology care team under the direction of Rajat Malhotra, M.D., of Illinois Cancer Specialists, located on the eighth floor of the Busse Center at NCH.
"It was very hard to work through the chemotherapy because I had neuropathy so bad," Joseph recalls. "But everyone at the hospital was great. Every step of the process was great, and I never met a crabby or rude person while I was there. It was awesome."
Oddly, Jana was diagnosed with cancer and also treated at NCH. Now the two coordinate their follow-up visits since they both see Dr. Malhotra.
"We call it our ‘date night,’” Joseph says. “We go up and see the cancer doctor and then go out for dinner. Everybody is happy and healthy. Jana’s was just a little spot on her thyroid and they removed it with surgery. Now it’s just regular follow-ups. He says everything looks good."
In late March of 2018, Joseph returned to work full time, three weeks after finishing his last chemotherapy treatment. He says he’s feeling stronger than ever.
No case is the same; results may vary.
The American Cancer Society recently updated its colorectal screening guidelines, recommending that people at average risk begin colon cancer screening at age 45 instead of age 50.
Learn more about the expert physicians at NCH’s Digestive Disorders Center and schedule a colonoscopy.
- Rajat Malhotra
- Willis Parsons
- Scott Pinchot