How Screening Saved a Life
June 15, 2021
Ritha Morrow, a 53-year-old dedicated wife, mother and grandmother from Somerset, KY, had always considered herself a healthy adult. She kept up with annual appointments and made sure to listen to her physician’s advice. Yet ever since Ritha turned 50, her primary care physician had stressed how important it is to follow the colorectal cancer screening guidelines and get a colonoscopy, since the risk does increase with age. As life sometimes gets in the way, Ritha had consistently put off the screening. After all, she had no obvious symptoms of colon issues and no close family history of colon cancer.
“After a couple of years, I finally decided it was time to schedule a colonoscopy, due to my age and continually hearing about the importance of screening and early detection,” said Ritha. “I had no symptoms except the occasional passing of blood, but I always assumed it was just hemorrhoids and never thought anything else about it.”
Ritha was referred to Dr. Brenda Jobson, a gastroenterologist at Lake Cumberland and would have her colonoscopy on November 27, 2019.
“Dr. Jobson and her staff were very friendly and helpful. They were very patient with me whenever I had questions, which was extremely important to me since this was my first screening,” said Ritha.
A colonoscopy is among the most effective methods for early detection of colorectal cancer and is used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube (colonscope) is inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view inside the entire colon. The screening is quick, simple, and painless and can be done in an outpatient setting.
A Cancer Diagnosis
Within a week of her colonoscopy, Ritha had received her results and was stunned to learn that she was being diagnosed with colon cancer. Ritha had many questions and concerns and was overwhelmed with the thoughts and fears of how her life was going to change.
“After my diagnosis, I was honestly in a panic. I was scared and wasn’t exactly sure what I should do,” explained Ritha. “Dr. Jobson was great throughout the entire process. She sat down with me on multiple occasions and talked through everything with me, answering all my questions and providing me with much needed emotional support. She was kind and compassionate and really went out of her way to make me feel comfortable. I was very confident in her care and appreciated all of her support.”
“Prompt attention to signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can save your life," explained Dr. Jobson. "Family history, blood in stool, black tarry stools, abdominal pain or cramping, change in bowel habits, or the urge to defecate all increase your risk for colon cancer. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be time you schedule a screening.”
Like most people, Ritha’s initial reaction was a desire to get the cancerous tissue out of her body as soon as possible. The entire month of December was busy with multiple scans and appointments. On December 26, 2019 she was in the operating room for a right hemicolectomy. This operation removes the right-hand portion of the colon (approximately half the colon) and attaches the small intestine to the remaining portion.
“I spent 4 nights in the hospital, 3 of them in ICU, before I was discharged and sent home,” explained Ritha. “Everyone at Lake Cumberland that took care of me before, during and after my surgery were excellent. From the surgeons and OR team to the nurses on each unit, I could not have asked for better care.”
Because Ritha’s cancer was found at an early stage, surgery was all that was necessary and chemotherapy would not be needed. Ritha made a quick recovery and was able to return to work six weeks later, with a new outlook on life.
Don’t Learn the Hard Way
Today, Ritha feels cautiously optimistic about her health. She says that the whole experience has made her realize not to take anything in life for granted. Ritha knows that had she not gotten her screening, her outcomes could have been much worse. She shares her story to encourage men and women to be proactive about their health.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has recently updated the guidelines for colorectal cancer screening and recommends people at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at 45. ACS lowered the age to start screening because studies show rates of colorectal cancer amount people younger than 50 are on the rise. The outlook doesn’t have to be grim, however, because colon cancer is highly preventable, and if detected early, it's also one of the most curable types of cancer. If everyone who is eligible gets screened, nearly 85% of colorectal cancers could be prevented or successfully treated.
“Don’t wait until you have symptoms to get your colonoscopy. Get it done as soon as it is recommended according to age, family history and other risk factors,” urged Ritha. “I’m very blessed to be living life cancer free, but the fear is always there. Even though I struggle with this fear, I have found my faith in God grow so much stronger.”