- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

LEROY, Ill. (AP) - Donna Brent is convinced that if her fiance hadn’t pushed her to get a colonoscopy and if a gastroenterologist hadn’t encouraged her to have a tumor removed, she’d be dead.

“If I wasn’t pushed, I’d be gone,” she said in her rural LeRoy home.

Donna’s months of denial, followed by a colon cancer diagnosis, followed quickly by a successful surgery, convinced her of the value of early detection.

Now, the 54-year-old woman is the one convincing other people age 50 and older to get a colonoscopy to check for colon cancer and polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer.

“God used Mark (Hicks, her fiance) and Dr. (Vijaya) Misra,” Donna said. “If they didn’t follow through, I wouldn’t be here. Now I’m telling everybody 50 and older to have it (colonoscopy) done. The sooner colon cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.”

Donna, who lives on the family farm west of LeRoy, has six children ages 17 through 31. She is an interior designer and also works for State Farm.

Her husband, Alan, a farmer, died on July 15, 2011, of stomach cancer that metastasized to the liver.

“You love somebody and you think your whole life is over. But you have these people who count on you,” she said, referring to her children, parents and co-workers.

“I kept it together. There were a lot of emotional ups and downs for me and the kids. I still go through it.”

When she turned 50, her primary care physician told her that it was time to get a colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends screening for colon cancer beginning at age 50 - earlier if there is a family history of colorectal (colon/rectum) cancer.

Still reeling from her husband’s sudden cancer death, Donna ignored the advice.

“I thought ‘I’m not going to get anything. I have too many things to do. Besides, I’m strong, I’m healthy, I’m Wonder Woman and I’m too busy,’” Donna recalled.

“She takes care of a lot of people,” added Mark, of Bloomington. “That’s why she put it off.”

Donna put off the colonoscopy even though she experienced some blood in her stool - a possible symptom of colon cancer. She said Alan also ignored possible warning signs.

“Everything that I had told my husband that he needed to do, I didn’t do,” she recalled.

Donna and Mark, also 54, began dating in 2013. A few months later, his adult daughter told him that he was overdue for his colonoscopy.

“I got it, it was no big deal. Everything checked out OK,” he recalled.

One day, Mark told Donna that she needed a colonoscopy.

“I have no clue how that conversation came up. What guy says that to the beautiful blonde that he’s in love with?” Mark recalled with a laugh. “But I want her to be around for years and years.”

Donna’s response? “You gotta be kidding me.” But Mark wasn’t, so Donna scheduled the screening.

In a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube with a tiny video camera on the end and slowly eases it into the colon. If polyps are detected, instruments are passed through the colonoscope to remove the polyps. If a tumor is found, the instruments can take a tissue sample.

Misra, of Digestive Disease Consultants in Normal, performed Donna’s colonoscopy in November 2014. While a tumor was found, a tissue sample was noncancerous.

Misra encouraged Donna to have the tumor removed. But Donna went into denial.

“When Dr. Misra said it was noncancerous, I said ‘hallelujah.’” She thought that meant the entire tumor was noncancerous and did research on how to reduce tumor sizes naturally.

In February 2015, Misra called Donna and asked why she hadn’t had the surgery.

“I said ‘I’m not having the surgery. I’ve got it under control.’” Misra explained that while the sample she took was noncancerous, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t cancer elsewhere in the tumor.

Rather than surgery, Donna agreed to have another colonoscopy. That one, on Feb. 15, revealed the tumor had grown.

“I got on my knees and said ‘Lord, my life is yours, but I can’t see the kids losing another parent to cancer,’” Donna recalled.

As Donna prayed, she concluded that Mark’s and Misra’s appeals were divine intervention. She realized “I wasn’t where I wanted to be spiritually.”

“I needed to grow spiritually,” she concluded. “I helped people to make their homes pretty (as an interior designer) and I helped my kids.”

But she needed time to get herself right spiritually, she recalled with tears.

Dr. Darryl Fernandes performed the surgery on March 16, 2015. He removed the tumor, a foot and a half of her colon and 21 lymph nodes.

“There was no cancer in the lymph nodes so no radiation,” Donna said. “I felt it was a gift from God. If I had waited much longer, it would have been stage 4 cancer and I’d be gone.”

Despite the good news, the surgery weakened Donna. She recently began exercising with a personal trainer to regain her strength and endurance. She also has adjusted her diet because some foods now cause cramping.

“Colon cancer is a sneaky disease,” said Dr. Philip Koszyk of Digestive Disease Consultants. “Sometimes, the only way to determine it is to get a colonoscopy.”

While the more common scenario is finding noncancerous polyps, Donna’s story proves that even people with colon cancer can be cured if it’s detected early enough, Koszyk said.

“Her story is an example of how following through and being an advocate for yourself can help,” said Theresa Bailey, clinical manager for the medical oncology specialty unit of Advocate BroMenn Medical Center.

Donna has made it her mission to make sure everyone 50 and older has a colonoscopy.

“My goals are to make people aware that it’s a simple procedure and to get it done. It can prevent a bad scenario.

“I tell people ‘I never thought I’d be a victim, but cancer isn’t picky,’” she said. Several people who she has encouraged to get screened have been diagnosed with colon cancer and have been treated.

Donna smiled and looked at her visitors.

“Have you had your colonoscopies?”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1WS1fiJ

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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