No Excuses: Colon Cancer Survivor Encourages Colonoscopy

3.1.2024

 

Colon cancer survivor Karen Fisher transformed her pain of diagnosis into a purpose to help others.

The Inverness, Florida, pharmacist helps newly diagnosed colorectal cancer (CRC) patients find support resources and encourages adults to get timely preventive screenings.

“I have been able to help friends, coworkers and neighbors get screened for colon cancer,” Fisher said. “It makes me feel good to be able to help other people prevent going through what I went through.”

Fisher learned she had Stage 2A colon cancer at age 54.

“Colon cancer wasn’t really even on the radar,” she said. “So, it was kind of a shock.”

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. This monthlong campaign promotes the research, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and, ultimately, cure for this disease.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates about 106,590 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer and about 46,220 with rectal cancer in 2024.

Don’t Make Excuses for Not Getting Screened

Colon cancer survivor Karen FisherIn 2016, experts recommended that colorectal cancer screenings begin at 50 for people at average risk for the disease. Fisher turned 50 that year but made excuses to postpone her screening.

“I was busy with work and teenagers and after-school activities, and you know, moms take care of everybody else but themselves,” she said. “I had even driven my husband to his colonoscopy when he turned 50. He’s five months younger than me.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended the screening age be lowered to 45 in 2021 because of an increase in cancer in younger people. CRC is now the number one cause of cancer death in men and the second in women younger than 50.

Fisher had no family history of CRC and did not think she had any symptoms.

“I had blood in the stool, but at the time I was perimenopausal, and I thought I was spotting between periods,” she said. “Looking back, I can recognize that yes, I had a symptom.”

Fisher’s health insurance required her to get a colonoscopy at the hospital where she works.

“That was one thing that prevented me from getting screened in a timely manner. I didn’t want to get naked in front of my coworkers,” she said. “I knew everyone in the endoscopy department. I didn’t want them to see me, so I put it off.”

Colonoscopy Reveals Cancer Diagnosis

In May 2020, Fisher tried to donate blood but was turned away because her hemoglobin level was low. Blood tests revealed Fisher had iron deficiency anemia. To determine the cause, her family doctor ordered a colonoscopy.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a backlog of cases at the hospital, and the urgent nature of her anemia, she was able to get a medical exception to have the procedure at Citrus Endoscopy and Surgery Center in nearby Crystal River.

Gastroenterologist Trupti Shinde, MD, performed the colonoscopy and found a 5 cm mass in Fisher’s colon. Dr. Shinde referred her to Parth Patel, MD, general surgeon, to remove the tumor and scheduled surgery in July 2020. Pathology revealed that the cancer was Stage 2A.

“It was just such a whirlwind of activity with me. You know, me still trying to work full time, too, and trying to process all of this in my head,” Fisher said.

A Foundation to Help CRC Patients

About six months post-surgery, Fisher scheduled a follow-up appointment with Dr. Shinde. The two discussed the lack of support and resources for colorectal cancer patients and caregivers.

“After recovery, I asked all my doctors about a support group for colon cancer but none of them knew of any,” Fisher said. “I did a lot of research online and found a lot of good resources. I wanted to share them with other colon cancer patients.”

Patient and doctor began offering support groups at the local library without much success. Undeterred, they refocused their efforts on compiling a list of patient resources into a pamphlet designed by Fisher’s son. Then they shared the pamphlets with local surgery centers and healthcare facilities for distribution to CRC patients.

Karen Fisher with her son, Dr. Shinde and Dr. Patel at Casino NightFrom this outreach, Fisher worked with Dr. Shinde and Dr. Patel to create the nonprofit Citrus Colorectal Cancer Foundation. The foundation started in June 2021, Fisher’s one-year “cancerversary.”

The foundation offers direction for educational, financial and emotional support for CRC patients, caregivers and the community. The foundation is planning ColonFest ‘24 on March 23 and the second annual Charity Casino Night in April.

A New Survivor Lifestyle

Currently, there are more than one million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S.

Fisher is fully healed three and a half years after her surgery.

“Everything is back to normal, and I can barely see the scars from the surgery,” she said.

A self-proclaimed chocoholic and a junk food junkie, Fisher adopted a healthier lifestyle, eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables and avoiding too much red meat, sugary foods and drinks.

“I lost 25 pounds after my surgery and recovery,” she said. “I feel like if I eat junk food then my cancer might come back.”

Even more so than diet or exercise, experts recognize regular colon cancer screening is the most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer. Fisher said she gets all her health screenings on time and doesn’t self-diagnose health conditions anymore.

Fisher, now 57, advises people not to make excuses and get screened on time.

“There are many types of colon cancer screening available these days, but I always recommend a colonoscopy,” Fisher said.

During a colonoscopy, your doctor can find and remove any polyps — often before they become cancerous. Colonoscopy is the only screening method that can detect and prevent colorectal cancer.

If you choose to take a stool test and receive a positive result, you need a follow-up colonoscopy to determine the cause.

Fisher running at Get Your Rear in Gear eventFisher keeps tabs on her family’s health screenings. One in three people with colorectal cancer have family members who also had it, according to the ACS. People with a family history of colorectal cancer, past polyps or specific genetic cancer syndromes should start screening earlier.

“My family is more aware of possible colon cancer symptoms since it can run in families,” she said. “They have been very supportive of me and my journey.”

In 2025, Fisher is looking forward to celebrating five years with no evidence of disease. She is even considering cheating on her diet.

“Maybe, once I reach the five-year mark, I will celebrate with some chocolate cake,” she said.

After retirement, Fisher said she wants to share the foundation’s mission in person across the U.S.

“I would love to buy an RV and travel all over the country, delivering my pamphlets to every scoping center I can find,” she said. “I would love to have regular support group meetings and help others go through this unwanted journey.”

Schedule Your Colonoscopy

CRC diagnosis in adults 40-49 has increased by nearly 15 percent in the past decade. Younger people tend to have more aggressive tumors that may be more difficult to treat.

Experts recommend colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45 for adults who are at average risk.

“Prevention is a cure, and we have to prevent bad things,” Dr. Shinde said. “And I tell my patients, if you’re healthy and you want to do all these things in your life, then you are the perfect candidate to get the colonoscopy because it’s the best preventive tool.”

Scheduling your colonoscopy at an ambulatory surgery center (ASC) may be a good option because ASCs are dedicated to specific procedures and may be less expensive.

“A great colonoscopy is not a job of only a physician. It’s a team,” Dr. Shinde said. “It’s a team effort, and it’s a well-oiled machine at an ASC.”

Getting screened is critical to detecting and preventing colorectal cancer. If you are 45 or older and you need a doctor, we can help you find our GI centers located nationwide. Call today to make an appointment.


This article is designed for educational purposes only. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health concern or disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health concern, you should consult your healthcare provider.