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Women are good at so many things, including placing others’ priorities ahead of our own. Unfortunately, this can have serious consequences on our own health.
At age 65, I had put off having a colonoscopy more than 20 years after the recommended colonoscopy age guidelines for this screening procedure. Sure, I scheduled my annual physical exam and made sure to get frequent mammograms, but other screenings like having a colonoscopy were too easy to overlook. That was until a chance encounter with Cherrell Freeman-Davis, a colleague of mine at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, proved lifesaving.
Related reading: Cherrell’s Story: My Colonoscopy Confession
The Push I Needed
As the creative services manager in Communications and Public Affairs at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, I see the amazing care our medical team provides each and every day. I just never imagined that I would be on the receiving end of that care.
Let me take you back to 2019. As I was dropping off some colonoscopy brochures with Cherrell, a practice administrator in the Department of Gastroenterology, we struck up a conversation. Cherrell asked me if I had ever had a colonoscopy. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I had managed to avoid having the screening procedure.
I didn’t have any good reasons for not having a colonoscopy. I did not have a family history of colorectal cancer. And, I wasn’t having any stomach or digestive problems or symptoms of anything serious. Quite honestly, I just had never taken the time. It sounds cliché, but I was too busy taking care of others.
Cherrell told me about an upcoming Saturday colorectal screening event on campus and encouraged me to register. In fact, she jokingly said that I couldn’t leave her office without signing up. Her not-so-subtle push that day likely saved my life. Before I left Cherrell’s office, I was registered for my first colonoscopy with gastroenterologist Z. Jennifer Lee, MD.
The Colonoscopy Prep Was Easy
Like so many others, I had always heard preparing for a colonoscopy was worse than the actual procedure. Fortunately, I have a stomach of iron. Plus, I received some very helpful tips on prepping for my colonoscopy from other hospital co-workers, including:
- Making sure the prep solution is cold
- Drinking the solution through a straw
- Putting a lemon drop in your mouth to help with the taste
Prepping for my colonoscopy seemed easy, and I was up early in the morning for my procedure. I had signed up for the first appointment of the screening event, so I could get in and out quickly and be on with the rest of my day. As I arrived at the hospital, I wasn’t nervous. I thought of the procedure as something I could check off my “to-do” list.
The Results Shocked Even Me
Dr. Lee came to see me shortly after I woke up from my colonoscopy. She started the conversation by saying that everything went fine, but then I heard her say something about finding 19 polyps. “Nineteen?” I asked. I was in disbelief.
The polyps were all concentrated in one part of my colon, and the polyps were removed. But Dr. Lee went on to say she had found something else: a rare growth in the last part of the small intestine called a neuroendocrine tumor. She told me the tumor would need to be removed and referred me to colorectal surgeon Dr. Brian Bello.
I went home and tried to resist the temptation of extensively researching information on endocrine tumors online. Actually, I stopped my online research after I saw a statistic that said 90 percent of patients require additional care after surgery, including radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Despite reading that information, I was still feeling positive and didn’t want those details to affect my upbeat outlook.
Two days later, I received a call from Dr. Bello’s office to set up a consultation appointment. “Great,” I thought. I could quickly run over to Dr. Bello’s office here on the hospital’s campus and then get back to work. I scheduled my surgery for late April, after a planned beach trip that I had been looking forward to. Later, I realized the irony in prioritizing work and other commitments over taking the time I needed to make sure my health was in check.
After completing several pre-op requirements, including CT and PET scans, I was ready for surgery. The neuroendocrine tumor was removed through minimally invasive surgery, and only two days later, I was ready to go home. While everything had gone smoothly, Dr. Bello referred me on to see oncologist
I was nervous about the thought of having radiation or chemotherapy, although no one ever said the word “cancer” to me at any time during my experience. During my appointment with Dr. Perry, he recommended I have a colonoscopy in the fall as a precaution but said that I didn’t need any additional follow-up care. I felt so lucky that I considered buying a lottery ticket!
A chance conversation about #colonoscopy may have saved Patty’s life. Learn about doctors’ shocking discovery during her screening and why Patty feels very lucky today. https://bit.ly/2wUdirY via @MedStarWHC
My Advice to Others
Looking back, I wish I would have scheduled a colonoscopy sooner. I realize my situation could have turned out much differently. I am grateful for the excellent care I received at MedStar Washington Hospital Center during each step of the process—from the nurses who took my vital signs to the doctors who carefully and compassionately explained my care plan.
And I still think about that conversation with Cherrell that started me on this lifesaving journey. Had it not been for that fateful talk, I might be sharing a very different story with you now.
I think all of us owe it to ourselves to make sure we take care of our own health needs. Getting a colonoscopy takes just a few hours out of your life, but the results can be life-changing. Take a couple of minutes and schedule yours today.