Chemotherapy nurse heads off colon cancer through early detection

Written by Dalton Godbey

It started with some ordinary symptoms such as stomach pain, issues that had been going on a while. But Rockcastle County resident Stephanie Hines was concerned enough to bring them up to her physician at her next check-up.

Given those symptoms and that her dad was a colon cancer survivor, her physician advised that she get a colonoscopy.

But after scheduling the appointment, she decided she wasn’t going after all.

Taking her family history into account, guidelines suggested she be screened at age 39, but she was only 32 at the time.

And, “being a nurse, we are notorious for thinking we don’t need anything,” said Hines, who now also happens to be a certified oncology nurse for the Rockcastle Regional Hospital Cancer Care Center.

Like many people, Hines wasn’t anxious to go through the process of getting a colonoscopy, but it is one of the most effective tools for early detection of colon cancer.

Colon cancer strikes more than 130,000 people in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among cancers that affect both men and women. In 2013, Kentucky had the highest incidence of colon cancer in the nation, and the fourth highest mortality rate. According to the Kentucky Cancer Registry, Rockcastle County alone has had more than 150 colorectal cancer cases since 2000.

But it also one of the most treatable cancers if detected early. That is why the Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center and the Colon Cancer Prevention Project are teaming up to share stories in southern Kentucky communities to bring awareness to early detection.

As it turns out, Hines’s story isn’t a colon cancer survivor story at all – it’s a story that illustrates the power of prevention.

Eventually she decided to get the colonoscopy. She’ll never forget what happened next.

“I remember hearing the nurse say, ‘Here’s a classic example. If she had waited until she was 39, she would have been dead.’”

The doctor found a large polyp in her colon that had not yet become cancerous, but he explained that he had never removed a polyp of that size that wasn’t cancerous. He told her that had she waited, she would have never seen 40.

Hines now schedules colonoscopies every 3-5 years as recommended by her doctor, and she remains cancer-free to this day.

“My dad’s cancer saved my life. If he hadn’t had cancer, I would’ve never gotten screened,” she said. “If you have any family history of colon cancer, get screened, because you never know.”

With no symptoms or risk factors such as a family history of colon cancer, the recommended screening age is 50. But colorectal cancer in those under 50 has become increasingly common. Now, one in seven victims of are under the age of 50.

Visit www.kickingbutt.org for more information about colon cancer, including symptoms and screening options. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you should consult a physician. For further information, contact Rockcastle County Health Department at (606) 256-1841 or call the Colon Cancer Prevention Project Hotline at 1 (800)-841-6399.