March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The early stages of colon cancer rarely produce any noticeable symptoms so that's why screening is so vital to diagnosis and treatment. We met a Brandon woman in her 40's who had ignored her symptoms for years only to find out late in the game she had cancer.
Pam Miller of Brandon has her hands full right now with this very energetic, somewhat mischievous and loveable 11 week old yellow lab puppy named Paj. Thankfully, luckily, Pam has the energy to match. She found out in February of 2008 she had colon cancer.
Pam says, "I didn't have what they typically look for when they ask questions about the possibility of colon cancer. I was constipated and that was it. I had been for a number of years and I should have pursued it with my doctors but I didn't because of the embarrassment. They'd say eat more apples so I'd go home and it never worked so I take over-the-counter meds for the constipation."
Finally, it had gotten so bad she went in and they did a colonoscopy. What doctors found was a good-sized cancerous tumor.
Dr. Addison Tolentino, Oncologist at the Avera Cancer Institute says, "Colon cancer if caught early is a very curable cancer. People should be aware that it can be detected early through colonoscopy even before symptoms appear. It arises from polyps and it takes 5 to 10 years of polyps to become cancerous."
By the time Pam had surgery the tumor they removed was the size of a plum and they had to remove a foot and a half of her colon which is the length of my arm from the tip of my middle finger to my elbow and she was one of the lucky ones.
Pam says, "I was really lucky, it was all contained in the colon. It wasn't in my lymph nodes. It hadn't spread anywhere else. It was the best case we could have hoped for."
Since Pam was 45 when she was diagnosed, her kids should start getting colonoscopies when they are 35 (10 years prior to when the family member was diagnosed) because having a family history of colon cancer puts them at increased risk. If you have no family history the recommended age to start getting screening is 50. If the test comes back clean, you don't have to come back for another 10 years. Pam wishes she would have known it's hereditary (her mom had polyps) and she wish she wouldn't have self-treated for so long.
Pam says, "I do feel strongly about it. Had I not been so embarrassed I probably wouldn't have had to go through all of this."
Pam says she's learned the hard way to be a better advocate for herself. She eats better now, exercises more and asks her doctors all kinds of questions. She has no intention of letting this puppy grow into a bird dog without her.
Avera is providing a free online Colorectal Health Assessment for us to take to help us understand our risk factors and recommended screenings that can save lives.