March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined. Approximately 140,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. and more than 50,000 people die from it annually.
Colon cancer deaths are highly preventable with proper annual screening and understanding how your family history could play a part in your health – just ask Melinda Teixeira of Santa Clarita, California.
It all started with a doctor’s appointment to discuss some digestive discomfort she was experiencing. Melinda met with her doctor, Cindy Uypitching, MD, at Kaiser Permanente Canyon Country Medical Offices, who asked a routine series of questions that Melinda says saved her life.
“She began asking me about my family history,” Melinda, 43, recalled. “She was so easy to talk to, and very personable. She listened and took her time with me. In that conversation, I mentioned my mother was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer at age 50.”
Dr. Uypitching immediately knew this family history revelation was critically important.
“I listened to her carefully and based upon some of the symptoms she was experiencing, I concluded there could be a much more serious health issue based on her family history,” she said. “This led me to refer her to see a gastroenterologist. I’m glad I did, because it turned out that she had colon cancer that required immediate attention.”
Melinda met with Gina Lin, MD, a gastroenterologist at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clarita Medical Offices, where a colonoscopy was scheduled right away. Following the procedure, Melinda received the news no one wants to hear – a mass was found in her colon.
“I was told I had stage 3 colon cancer, and that I needed surgery,” Melinda said. “I was shocked! I wasn’t sure what to think; this was devastating news.”
Melinda underwent surgery at Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center to remove the tumor. She was informed she had stage 3 colon cancer with 3 of 12 lymph nodes involved. Immediately following surgery, Melinda underwent chemotherapy, which has resulted in a positive outcome. But, she faced some challenges.
“I experienced a lot of the normal side-effects during my chemo treatment,” she recalled. “All of these got better once chemo stopped. I’m in a good position right now. If I’m clear in 2 years, I can consider it to be a true remission of this disease.”
Melinda, a mother of 2, keeps a positive outlook on life with the goal of being 100 percent cancer-free. Today, Melinda eats more vegetables and exercises regularly, something that she rarely did before being diagnosed with colon cancer. And, she has some important advice for others.
“I would have definitely gotten screened sooner for colon cancer if I understood the importance of how my family history could play a role in my health,” she said. “My advice is: Don’t take your health for granted; be your own health advocate and don’t procrastinate! Preventive care is key to fighting diseases like colon cancer, and it starts with screening. So much depends on early detection and understanding family history.”
Melinda credits her positive outlook for the future on Kaiser Permanente’s integrated health care system and its emphasis on preventive care through early screening. She was impressed by Kaiser Permanente’s focus on patient safety and medical excellence exemplified by the ongoing high-quality care she received. She acknowledges her team of doctors starting from her primary care physician, Dr. Uypitching, to her oncologist, Andy Yung Su, MD, as important factors in her road to recovery.
“I’m finding a sense of acceptance of my condition,” she said. “Finding a sense of normalcy is important after something as life-altering as colon cancer, and being able to help the next person allows me to find a reason and a purpose. The facts are clear: colon cancer is curable, but it starts with screening because it saves lives, and it saved mine!”
Learn more about Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s expert cancer care and choices that are right for you.
Get more information on the importance of colon cancer screenings.