Don't Ignore the Signs: Susan Ripka's Lifesaving Colonoscopy

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 2:14 PM comments (0)

susan and familySusan 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.

I felt 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!

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Colorectal Cancer – Early Screening Can Save Lives

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:30 AM comments (0)

colon cancerColorectal 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:

  • Your risk increases with age. More than 90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in those who are 50 or older. Everyone over the age of 50 should follow national screening guidelines and continue screening at regular intervals at least until 75 years of age.
  • You should not wait for symptoms. Colorectal cancer rarely causes noticeable symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms of colorectal cancer—bleeding from the rectum, change in bowel habits, noticeable weight loss—often do not appear until the cancer is advanced and more difficult to treat. Most colorectal cancers come from polyps, or abnormal masses, that grow in the inner lining of the large intestine. With screening, polyps can be removed before they even become cancerous.
  • Family history is important. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need to begin screening earlier, perhaps at 40 or even younger. You will also need to be screened more frequently than currently recommended by the national guidelines. 
  • Personal history is important. Some studies have shown that women who have had ovarian, uterine or breast cancer have a higher-than-average chance of developing colorectal cancer. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are also risk factors. Talk to your physician about how these risk factors might affect the frequency of your screenings.
  • There are several screening options. There are many tests for colorectal cancer, including fecal occult blood test (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy and barium enema. Colonoscopy is the most effective test for colon cancer screening. Talk to your physician about which screening option is best for you.


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?

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