Colon Cancer Survivor Laura Piland Advocates for Screening
Laura Piland was only 38 when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Today she is a survivor, thanks to her skilled medical team, her family’s support, and the timeliness of her diagnosis.
As a wife, mother and career woman, Laura was busy with many things in 2016, and she thought her initial symptoms of fatigue and weakness could be blamed on the normal stress of life. Her primary care provider, Dr. James Miller, was concerned, and ordered tests that revealed abnormally low hemoglobin levels. He referred Laura to Dr. Aimee Kohn, the visiting oncologist then for Outpatient Specialty Clinics of Bates County Memorial Hospital (BCMH), and more tests were performed at BCMH, including a colonoscopy and a CT scan.
Dr. Donald Clement, a gastroenterologist, met with Laura after her colonoscopy procedure to share his findings: colon cancer. The diagnosis was a shock, even though Laura said she knew, when she first noticed blood in her stool, that something was wrong. Looking back, she realized she had ignored intestinal issues for a while and had attributed them to stress, or maybe an ulcer.
“This was not on our radar,” Laura said. “You always think, that won’t happen to me. Most of us think, that person with colon cancer probably had a horrible diet, a family history, or other factors. I did not. I didn’t have any of those.”
The cancer in Lauren’s colon – at stage three – had breached the lining of her colon, affecting two lymph nodes, and would require chemotherapy. Her team of specialists fast-tracked her treatment plan: she had colon resection surgery at Menorah Medical Center, and chemotherapy began a month later at BCMH. After a few treatments, chemotherapy’s side effects required Laura to replenish her fluids by IV nearly every day, which she was able to do in the BCMH oncology unit.
“I couldn’t imagine having to drive to the city every day for fluids,” she said. “At that point, I felt awful. It helped that it was a three-minute drive from home.” Laura’s mother, Joyce Fitzpatrick, is a retired nurse from BCMH, and she never missed accompanying Laura for her treatments or fluids.
“The nurses set up a table for us and we would play cards while I had my fluids,” Laura said. “It wasn’t a fun time, but the nurses certainly made it much easier.”
When asked why she chose her local hospital for cancer treatment, Laura said, “It was nice to be around people that I was already familiar with. But honestly, I came here because I knew the level of care I would receive. I’ve seen other cancer centers where a lot of patients are put into one big room to receive treatments. Down here, you get your own room, a lot of privacy, and pretty special treatment.”
Part of the special treatment, in Laura’s case, was mashed potatoes. It’s been almost five years since her diagnosis and treatments, but she still remembers her nurses made a special arrangement with nutrition services to bring her mashed potatoes for every visit, even when they weren’t on the menu, because it was one of the few things she could eat.
Laura is now in remission, and she is a strong advocate for colon cancer screening because it can save lives. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer (or colorectal cancer) is the third leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. Many of these deaths could have been avoided with earlier screening.
“A key feature of colon cancer management is the ability to prevent the disease with appropriate screening,” Dr. Clement said. “A colonoscopy remains the gold standard for colorectal cancer prevention and is utilized for screening, diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Regardless of the type of screening that is performed we certainly encourage timely tests, such as at age 45 or possibly earlier largely dependent on family history.”
Of special concern to Dr. Clement is an emerging trend of increased colorectal cancer in younger people. “We don’t routinely screen patients at a young age, unless there is a family history. In addition to screening for groups at risk, aggressive management of symptoms in young patients showing symptoms (such as rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habits) is now emphasized to identify potential cancers at an earlier stage, particularly in the lower part of the colon.”
A colonoscopy as a procedure remains quite safe, and is well tolerated, Dr. Clement added.
Talk to your primary care provider if you have symptoms that may indicate colorectal cancer and ask your doctor which colon cancer screening method is right for you.
* Dr. Kohn has not seen patients at BCMH since her move to Seattle in 2019. Today, Dr. Singh and his team of oncologists see patients for clinic visits and infusion treatments at BCMH Outpatient Specialty Clinics.
Colorectal Cancer Signs and Symptoms
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Source – American Cancer Society. Learn more about colorectal cancer by visiting https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html
Pictured: Left to right
Ann Donnohue, RN Outpatient Specialty Clinic Supervisor
Stephanie Boin RN
Kate Long, RN
Karen Landers, RN