Susan Ripka, a busy mother of 5-year-old twin girls, just didn’t
feel right. She’d been dealing with recurring digestive issues but when she noticed blood in her stool, she made an appointment to see NorthShore gastroenterologist Laura Bianchi, MD. At the appointment, Dr. Bianchi recommended a screening colonoscopy, an outpatient procedure that would ultimately save Susan’s life.
At only 43, Susan was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Thankfully, Susan’s cancer was discovered at its earliest stage and after surgery performed by Joseph Muldoon, MD, Susan is now cancer free.
Here, she tells us about her experience at NorthShore, why she strongly recommends seeking medical
advice if something doesn’t feel right and how a difficult diagnosis renewed her outlook on life:
What stood out most about your treatment at NorthShore and your experience with Dr. Bianchi and Dr. Muldoon?The
entire process, from the colonoscopy to surgery, was very smooth and well organized at NorthShore. Dr. Bianchi was very patient, thorough and informative during the process. She also had a personal, caring approach that helped keep me at ease.
blessed to have Dr. Muldoon as my surgeon. He came highly recommended and I felt very confident in his skill and approach to my surgery.
What does your care plan look like going forward? How often will you continue to be screened?Right
now, I am continuing follow-up appointments with Dr. Muldoon, and since the pathology report came back negative, I will only require annual screenings.
What would you tell other women your age who are experiencing unusual digestive issues?After hearing my story, women have told me about their own symptoms and I always strongly recommended they seek an evaluation.
What would you tell someone who is afraid to have a colonoscopy performed either out of fear of pain or
embarrassment?I tell people the process and procedure is much simpler than they would expect. I also share how important it is to work through that fear because in my case it saved my life.
What’s next for you and your family?
What do you look forward to the most? I have a renewed outlook on life. I look forward to watching my kids grow up and spending as much time with my family as possible!
What did you learn through this experience?I learned that God is in control of my life. He demonstrated love and care through orchestrating events that revealed the cancer early and set me on a path with the most highly skilled medical team. I believe each staff member, nurse, doctor (namely
Dr. Bianchi and Dr. Muldoon) were a gift from God. I only need to remember this experience and I am thankful and praising God for what He did for me and hope He blesses all the hands that helped me!
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming nearly 29,000 men and women
each year. It is surpassed only by lung cancer. Colon cancer also happens to be one of the most preventable cancers. Studies have shown that a colonoscopy can reduce the risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer by 90%. A colonscopy can enable a
physician to identify and remove polyps before they even become malignant.
David Labowitz, DO, MPH, Gastroenterology at NorthShore, addresses some of the damaging myths about colonoscopy that discourage many from getting this
lifesaving procedure when they should:
Myth #1: The “prep work” is terrible.
You do have to empty your colon before a colonoscopy. This is the hardest part of the exam, but the most important. I always tell patients that without a good prep, it’s like driving through fog—you cannot see where you are going. However, the prep does not
have to be a terrible experience. The day before the procedure, you should stop eating solid food and consume only clear liquids; however, you can have more than just water. Incorporating variety—tea, Jell-O, sports drinks and broth—into your 24-hour clear
liquid diet will help make it more bearable.
The most common complaint is the volume of colonoscopy prep electrolyte solution that must be consumed to clear the bowels. To make this easier, we actually split the drinking of the prep into two different time periods (the evening before and a couple of
hours before the procedure). This not only is an easier way for patients to accomplish the prep, but has been shown in national studies to be a better way to prep for the procedure. Think about the prep this way: the cleaner your colon, the faster and easier
the procedure the next day. Unfortunately, if your colon isn’t clear because you have failed to drink the solution, polyps and lesions could go undetected or the results could be inconclusive. Further, the procedure may need to be repeated. It’s all about
doing it right the first time.
Expert Tips! Make the Prep a Little Easier
Myth #2: The procedure is painful.
A colonoscopy is a very tolerable procedure. Further, it does not take very long and most of the time is completed within 20-30 minutes. Before the procedure begins, you will be given a sedative to help you relax. In fact, most patients will sleep
through the entire procedure and wake up not remembering any of it. Those who remain awake during the procedure report nothing more than slight cramping or pressure in the abdomen, similar to the feeling of having a bowel movement.
Myth #3: It’s embarrassing.
Our NorthShore gastroenterologists perform over 35,000 GI procedures each year—the majority being colonoscopies—so they have a lot of experience making sure patients are as comfortable with the process as possible. Patients can also make an appointment with
their gastroenterologist before the procedure to meet face to face and ask any questions that will help them feel more comfortable.
Myth #4: There is a high risk of complications.
Complications during or after a colonoscopy are very rare. The bottom line is your risk of developing colon cancer is far higher than your risk of suffering a complication due to a colonoscopy. It is, however, important to schedule your colonoscopy
with a physician who is certified to perform this procedure.
Myth #5: Colonoscopies aren’t necessary for women.
Colorectal cancer affects men and women in nearly equal numbers. It’s not a man’s disease; therefore, screening colonoscopies are for everyone. Women need to schedule their first screening colonoscopy starting at age 50, just like men. More than 90% of colorectal
cancer is diagnosed in people who are 50 or older. Those with a family history of the disease and other risk factors—a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), history of polyps, type 2 diabetes, obesity and smoking—might need to start screening early
and undergo screening more often. Ask your doctor when you should begin screening.
For more information on colonoscopies and to make an appointment, click here.
Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. However,
if everyone over the age of 50 were regularly screened, it might be possible to reduce deaths associated with colorectal cancer by as much as 60 percent.
Many women believe that colorectal cancer is a disease that affects more men than women, so they might not be aware of or believe they need to follow current screening recommendations. National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month this March is the right time
to spread the word that colorectal cancer affects men and women equally and that screening saves lives.
Joel Retsky, MD, Gastroenterologist, shares some important information about colorectal cancer everyone should know, men and women:
If you’re 50 or over and have never been screened for colorectal cancer, make National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month the month you schedule your first appointment.
Have you been screened for colorectal cancer?
Colon cancer is one of the most preventable
cancers in the United States—nearly 90% preventable with colonoscopy. Despite this, it is the second leading cause of cancer death, affecting more than 29,000 men and women in this country each year.
Monica Borkar, MD, provides a list of risk factors that affect the development of colon polyps—and thereby, colon cancer—including:
Colon cancer starts as a polyp, or growth, in the colon. These polyps grow slowly over many years, and larger ones are more likely to be dangerous.
In most cases people do not have symptoms, although common symptoms of colon cancer include:
National guidelines recommend that individuals with a lack of the risk factors listed above undergo colonoscopy at age 50. Colonoscopy for colon cancer screening—a 20-minute procedure—is the most important test to check for polyps and cancer, even before
symptoms arise, and leads to prompt diagnosis and treatment with an excellent survival rate.
Are you surprised by any of the risk factors listed above?