June 1 marks the 27th annual National Cancer Survivors Day, a day set aside for all people living with a history of cancer – including America’s nearly 14 million cancer survivors – to connect, celebrate milestones and recognize those who have supported them along the way.
Traditionally held on the first Sunday in June, National Cancer Survivors Day includes not only cancer survivors, but also their family members, friends and medical professionals. Speaking as a medical professional, I am encouraged by the fact that the overall risk of cancer death has decreased by 20 percent over the past two decades, with colon, breast and prostate cancers showing the most improvement. The American Cancer Society credits the shift to improved prevention, screening and treatment.
It is a proven fact that screening colonoscopies save lives, lives of people like Michelle Henry, a patient who first came to me in 2009 at the age of 45. Michelle graciously is sharing her story to encourage survivors and patients – and to remind others of the importance of getting your screening colonoscopy.
As we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day, I am happy to take this opportunity to recognize Dr. Meade Edmunds of Gastrointestinal Associates, a physician who has played an important role in helping me survive a very scary cancer diagnosis.
Two years before I saw Dr. Edmunds, I visited a gastroenterologist with another practice who diagnosed my stomach problems as irritable bowel syndrome. When those problems – intermittent constipation and diarrhea with rectal bleeding – continued to escalate, my mother suggested that I visit Gastrointestinal Associates. I’m so glad I did.
Dr. Edmunds listened to me, conducted a thorough examination and took steps to ensure that I had a colonoscopy as soon as possible. That colonoscopy revealed a very large colorectal tumor. Later testing showed that the cancer had spread to my liver, meaning that my cancer was Stage IV – the most advanced and most deadly form of the disease.
In addition to performing the colonoscopy that discovered the cancer, Dr. Edmunds provided the tremendous service of recommending my oncologist, Dr. Richard Antonucci, and surgeon, Dr. Gregory Midis, who have been instrumental in helping to keep me alive for more than four years and moving me closer to reaching the five-year survival mark. According to the American Cancer Society, only 6 percent of individuals diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer survive five years or more.
Dr. Edmunds has performed two follow-up colonoscopies since my original diagnosis, and both have come back perfect. I am thankful for the good reports and an ardent advocate for screening colonoscopies. General guidelines recommend a screening colonoscopy beginning at age 50, and once every 10 years following a clean colonoscopy. Those with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, such as African Americans or individuals with a family history of the disease, may need to begin screening at 40.
Have you had your colonoscopy? If not, please consider my story and schedule your procedure today. It might just save your life. –Michelle Henry
All of us here at Gastrointestinal Associates echo Michelle’s appeal to get your screening colonoscopy beginning at age 50 – because we are happy to celebrate all cancer survivors this year and hope to celebrate even more survivors in 2015.
Lori Tucker of WATE-TV Channel 6 recently interviewed Dr. Edmunds and Michelle about her experience and how a screening colonoscopy saved her life. The story aired on June 24, and the video clip is below.