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‘Why did I wait to get a colonoscopy?’

February 27, 2019

Terri walks with her son Johnny at the NCH Wellness Center.

After a rectal cancer diagnosis in 2017, Terri Moore didn’t want to talk about the “C” word. She kept the pain to herself and entered a world of self-blame.

“I never ever thought I would be told that I had cancer,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why did I wait to get a colonoscopy?’ And I thought, ‘I’m going to die.’”

Over the next year, which included a colonoscopy, multiple scans, radiation treatment, surgery, chemotherapy and an ileostomy bag, Terri coped by sitting in her “sick chair” most days. She was unable to work and had to ride out severe side effects she says were “far worse than getting a colonoscopy.”

Terri now feels that sharing her story openly could help her 52-year-old brother and others find the courage to have a colorectal screening.

“I’ve been through a lot and it’s awful,” Terri says. “I want to tell my story if I can encourage someone, anyone, to go and get a colonoscopy.”

Terri put off getting screened for the same reason many people do. She was afraid to be put to sleep. She was 53 when she began experiencing rectal bleeding during bowel movements.

“I figured it was a hemorrhoid and it would go away,” she says. “But after a couple of months, it got worse. I hadn’t gone to my primary care physician in a long time, so I decided to go to a new physician close to my house in Schaumburg.”

She made an appointment with NCH Medical Group Physician Aimeelee Valeroso, M.D., who encouraged Terri to get a routine colonoscopy performed by NCH Medical Group Gastroenterologist Benjamin VanCura, M.D., who removed a two-centimeter malignant polyp. Terri then went to see Willis Parsons, M.D., Medical Director of the NCH Gastroenterology Center, for a CT scan and endoscopic ultrasound.

“We’re seeing colorectal cancer in younger people now,” Dr. Parsons says, adding that the American Cancer Society recently updated its guidelines, recommending routine screening begin at age 45 instead of 50. “With early detection, we can take care of it.”

It’s not uncommon for patients like Terri to assume bleeding is coming from a hemorrhoid and put off going to the doctor. He urges people to see a physician right away.

“I hear a lot of these stories where the bleeding turns out to be cancer,” Dr. Parsons says. “Early detection is very important. Three years ago, Terri probably would have had a polyp, but not cancer. She probably would have it removed during a colonoscopy and probably would not have had surgery.”

Terri underwent robotic surgery performed by NCH Medical Group Colorectal Surgeon Scott Pinchot, M.D., to remove cancerous cells that had spread to muscle tissue. Dr. Pinchot says a large number of people are afraid of getting a colonoscopy because they don’t want to know what it reveals.

“The moral of the story is that Terri went ahead with the colonoscopy and because she did, we were able to find something and it was still treatable,” says Dr. Pinchot. “In her case, radiation followed by surgery and chemotherapy has her ‘out of the woods’ and that’s the blessing in disguise.”

Terri talks with Dr. Sobol during a follow-up visit.

Terri has follow-up visits with Hematologist and Oncologist Urszula Sobol, M.D., who notes scans have shown no return of the cancer.

“I think my team of doctors has been wonderful with scans and follow-up visits,” Terri says. “They all really want to make sure I’m OK.”

Terri is back to enjoying her job as a lunchroom monitor at her grandchildren’s grade school. She got rid of her “sick chair” and bought a new one.

“I sit in it, but not for long,” she says. “I get up and go do things. I live my life and I don’t second guess myself. Life’s too short and I’ve really had a close look at that.”

No case is the same; results may vary.

Learn more about the expert physicians at NCH’s GI Center and schedule a colonoscopy or call 847-618-2888.