Daily Herald American Cancer Society
Inspirational colon cancer survivor fills life to the brim

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A 2004 diagnosis of colon cancer did not slow down Cindy Kuesis of Barrington Hills. Pictured above are husband, Dan, son, Max, and bulldog, Duke.

Cindy Kuesis, a 37-year-old Barrington Hills new mom, says it’s not only her nine-month-old son, Max, who keeps her on her toes.

With another child due this fall, Kuesis says she’s been in whirlwind mode since being diagnosed in 2004 with colon cancer — she became engaged, married her husband, Dan, a year later, competed in her first-ever marathon in 2006, delivered her first child in 2007 and today is counting down the weeks until the arrival of baby No. 2.

Colon cancer not an ‘old man’s disease’

“Everyone seems to think colon cancer is an old man’s disease,” Kuesis says. “But that’s not the case.”

With a strong history of cancer in the family — her dad battled colon cancer in his mid-30s, a grandmother had cervical cancer and material grandmother fought pancreatic cancer — Kuesis had her first colonoscopy screening exam two years prior to diagnosis.

“Despite becoming anemic and somewhat dizzy, I didn’t suspect anything unusual until I developed a lump in my abdomen,” Kuesis recalls. “My fiancé (and now husband), who is an orthopedic surgeon, suspected that it could be a hernia or something more serious and recommended a radiology scan.”

Colon cancer facts

According to the American Cancer Society, while colon cancer can be prevented, it remains the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and third leading cause of cancer death among men and women combined in the United States. It typically develops in the lower part of the digestive system, also known as the gastrointestinal system. The digestive tract processes food and rids the body of solid waste. Colon cancer usually develops from precancerous changes or growths (polyps) in the lining of the colon and rectum. In Illinois, nearly 6,890 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year, and an estimated 2,380 will die from the disease.

That test and subsequent workup ultimately lead Kuesis to hear the fateful diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer.

Kuesis’ treatment included surgery at Alexian Brothers Medical Center to remove the ascending portion of her colon and her appendix.

“I remember telling my surgeon that I’d be up and training for a marathon in no time,” she says. “That prediction came true within a year as I trained for and completed my first-ever marathon and raised money for the American Cancer Society within a year of completing treatment.”

A month after her springtime surgery, chemotherapy began and included seven months of bi-weekly sessions that lasted through Thanksgiving.

Kuesis says fatigue was the most troubling side effect.

The most positive was engagement. Her boyfriend proposed one week before chemotherapy began.

“I remember asking my oncology team about the effects of chemotherapy on fertility and had hoped I’d be able to see a specialist before starting chemotherapy to save eggs and hope for a future family,” she recalls. “But due to the aggressive nature of the disease, time was of the essence and we moved ahead with treatment.”

Those fears were alleviated in June 2007 when son, Max, made his triumphant debut. This November, Max is slated to become a big brother.

Importance of screening

Naperville resident Roger Brown, 56, says his first colonoscopy this past January was a lifesaving eye-opener. “My wife, Lynn, had already done her colonoscopy, my doctor had been recommending it and I was procrastinating,” admits the father of two and grandfather of three.

Results of the simple screening left Brown stunned. “I had a pre-cancerous polyp, which measured one and one-half inches in diameter, removed,” he recalls. “The doctor told me he almost had to schedule a second procedure to remove it.” Brown says he believes he dodged a deadly bullet and is now an enthusiastic proponent of the screening exam.

“If you’re over 50 or experiencing any symptoms, you’re foolish not to do it,” he says. “Get past that denial stage quick. It can happen to you.”

Colon cancer screening guidelines

Based on a review of the historic and recent evidence, the following tests are deemed acceptable options for the early detection of colorectal cancer and adenomatous polyps for asymptomatic adults age 50 years and older:

Tests that detect adenomatous polyps and cancer:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
  • Double contrast barium enema every five years, or
  • CT colonography (CTC) every five years

Tests that primarily detect cancer:

  • Annual guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or
  • Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or
  • Stool DNA test (sDNA), with high sensitivity for cancer, interval uncertain.

Updated colorectal cancer screening guidelines released

The American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology and the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer recently released new joint consensus guidelines for colorectal cancer screening.

The guidelines add two new tests to the list of recommended options: a stool DNA test that finds the abnormal DNA associated with cancer, and CT colonography, also known as virtual colonoscopy.

Screening methods are now grouped into those that primarily identify cancer and those that both detect cancer and precancerous polyps.

The panel urges that colon cancer prevention should be the primary goal of colorectal cancer screening and encourages the use of tests than can detect precancerous polyps, not just early signs of cancer.

“Despite clear evidence that colorectal cancer screening saves lives and the existence of several effective tests, screening rates have lagged, costing thousands of lives every year,” says Dr. Otis W. Brawley, national chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

The expert panel recognized that some patients will not want to undergo an invasive test that requires a bowel prep, may prefer to have screening in the privacy of their home, or may not have access to the invasive tests due to lack of coverage or local resources, so will opt for stool occult blood or DNA testing, which can be performed at home, without bowel prep.

But the panel said providers and patients should understand that those tests are less likely to prevent cancer compared with the invasive tests; they must be repeated at regular intervals to be effective; and if the test is abnormal, an invasive test (colonoscopy) will still be needed.

For free colon cancer information and support by cancer information specialists, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, call (800) ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.


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