Finding & Fighting Cancer Early: Read Fran's Story
Fran and Frank are thankful for regular screenings.
Each year, more than 130,000 Americans, both men and women, are diagnosed with colorectal cancer — the second deadliest form of cancer.
Part of the reason for this is colorectal cancer doesn’t exhibit symptoms until it is well underway. The good news is that it is treatable and — with regular screenings — can be detected early.
Routine Test… Until it’s Not
Cream Ridge resident Fran is used to getting the colonoscopy test.
“I have one every year because of my diverticulitis. My doctor wanted to keep an eye on it,” says Fran.
After one of these routine colonoscopies, Fran expected to get the same light-hearted banter she and her doctor have had for years.
“When I heard him cut right to, ‘I want to see you in my office in a week,’ without cracking a smile, I knew something just wasn’t right,” says Fran.
Sure enough, when Fran returned for her follow-up, the doctor told her she had cancer.
“He said the good news was it was very small, and we were fortunate to catch it so early,” explains Fran.
Screening for Survival
Without Fran’s regular screening, her colorectal cancer may have gone unnoticed, growing for months, or even a year or more.
“I want to tell people my story because the only reason I was able to beat this cancer was because I had that screening,” says Fran. “There are a lot of people who are not getting these tests and should be.”
Fran is right. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 percent of New Jersey residents between the ages of 50 and 75 are not up to date on colorectal cancer screenings.
There are three colorectal cancer screenings currently recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for individuals between the ages of 50 and 75:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – these tests kits are done at home and mailed in to detect blood in the stool. How often: Once per year.
- Sigmoidoscopy – this test uses a thin, flexible tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. How often: Every five years with FOBT every three years.
- Colonoscopy – similar to the sigmoidoscopy, but the tube is longer to view the entire colon. During this test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. How often: Every 10 years.
Treatment & Surgery
“Fran was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. This means there was a tumor in her colon as well as cancer in two out of 18 lymph nodes,” explains Fran’s oncologist, Tricia Morino, DO.
Fran underwent chemotherapy at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Hamilton for approximately six months following surgery to remove her right colon and appendix.
“Chemotherapy is carefully dosed medicine that attacks cancer cells wherever they may be in the body. Sometimes residual cancer cells are too small for us to see on a CT scan; chemotherapy can be effective in treating these,” Dr. Morino explains.
Along with keeping her mind busy with puzzles, Fran credits her husband Frank, her family and her exceptional care at Rutgers CINJ Hamilton with her ability to stay positive throughout her treatment.
Dr. Morino notes the importance of a strong support system during therapy.
“You need someone to help out—whether it’s coming to doctor appointments to ask questions, providing a second set of ears, or keeping you company during chemotherapy sessions,” she says.
According to the American Cancer Society, women are more often caregivers, and most are aged 55 years or older. In Fran’s case, her husband Frank was a great source of support.
“I see Fran every three months or so to check on her progress, her bloodwork and perform a physical exam,” she adds.
“Frank is always with her, and it is great to see them moving forward from her cancer diagnosis, to enjoying their lives together.”
Current Recommendations for the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer
1. Get screened regularly.
2. Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
3. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
4. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources; specifically:
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight by managing portions of foods and beverages.
Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains.
Limit your consumption of processed and red meats.
5. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.
Source: American Cancer Society.