Penn Medicine recognizes March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Follow us all month for information on screening and prevention tips.
At 50, Michele was feeling great. She'd done everything she was supposed to do to take care of her health.
Annual physical exam? Check.
Skin check for moles and skin cancer? No problem.
Bone density scan? Of course.
But the one thing she'd put off was getting a colonoscopy.
“It was the only thing I hadn't done, and I really didn't think much of it,” remembers Michele. “I felt great; there wasn't a reason to get one other than I was 50 and it was recommended I get one at 50.”
Two months before her 51st birthday, on Valentine's Day, Michele had her colonoscopy in central New Jersey close to her home.
Her doctor found cancer. That colonoscopy saved her life.
“He told me he found lesions, and that I needed to see a specialist surgeon,” says Michele. “I left there dazed and confused.”
One week later, Michele met with Dr. Najjia Mahmoud, MD, Chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery in the Department of Surgery at Penn Medicine.
“Dr. Mahmoud had a calming effect,” says Michele. “She spoke to me in a way I could understand the process for my situation, she actually made it sound easy – and that put me at ease.”
It was stage 3 colon cancer, and after her surgery at Penn, Michele had 12 rounds of chemotherapy under the care of Ursina Teitelbaum, MD, medical oncologist at the Abramson Cancer Center.
“I was so impressed with Dr. Teitelbaum,” says Michele. “I walked into that first visit with two pages of questions, and she went through and answered each and every one.”
Michele got through those chemotherapy treatments, but it wasn't an easy road.
“Chemotherapy was tough, but I got through it with the support of my friends and family, and the determination I had to get through it,” says Michele. “I walked every day – even if it was slow – because I knew that's what I had to do.”
Today, Michele is cancer-free and is an advocate for colon cancer awareness. She's participated in the Undy 5000 race, numerous awareness events, and supports multiple organizations through volunteer work. This year again, she had Governor Christie proclaim March, 2014, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in New Jersey.
“If I can save one person from being where I was, that makes me happy,” says Michele. “It's estimated that 1 in 3 people are not up to date with their screenings, and that 1 in 20 will be diagnosed with colon cancer. Those numbers alone should alarm people to take action.”
Michele reminds us she had no symptoms of colon cancer – no pain, no blood in her stool, and her annual blood work was normal.
“I probably had colon cancer for years before I went for a screening,” she says, “but without the screening, I probably would have found out too late.”