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June’s Hero of the Month: Colon Cancer Survivor Karen Witkus

Exact Sciences: Thank you again for participating in our Hero of the Month column. Could you please start off by explaining a little more about your personal connection with colon cancer?

Karen: As soon as I turned 50, my physician wrote me a prescription for a colonoscopy. I folded it up and kept it in my wallet for three years. The years following that initial appointment, I had virtually no symptoms. I had a little bleeding in my stool, but nothing major enough to scare me to finally follow through with the appointment.

Three years later, I began to read more about colon cancer and how polyps can lead to cancer. Something just clicked for me. I told myself, “You better just do this thing; your dad had polyps.” It was then that I decided it was time to get the colonoscopy. I made the appointment with my gastroenterologist, and during the procedure they found a polyp and snipped it out.

My doctor thought that it could be precancerous and asked that I come back for a follow-up visit in three months. The test results came back, and it was, in fact, precancerous. I wasn’t going to take my time with the follow-up appointment, so when the three months was up, I was right on time and back in my doctor’s office. At this appointment, I learned that the precancerous polyp had moved so aggressively that it was now full-blown cancer.

Within two weeks I was scheduled with a surgeon to remove the polyps. Thankfully it had not spread outside the intestinal wall or to my lymph nodes. During the operation, I had six inches of my intestine removed. To date, I’m six years cancer-free and I now go yearly for a colonoscopy.

Exact Sciences: What are you doing to raise awareness of this disease?

Karen: When this first happened to me, I didn’t really discuss it with anyone. Then I joined Facebook and I started to join relevant groups and I saw all these people sharing their personal story. I started to comment and engage with others about their experience and slowly I started to share my own story. I tell people, especially those in my age group, please just do it. Just get it over with for your own peace of mind.

Exact Sciences: In your opinion, why is it important for people to be educated about the disease and the prevention methods?

Karen: I don’t think people are aware that you can have colon cancer and not have any symptoms. In my case, I had no symptoms, no pain, nothing. I went from no symptoms to full-blown cancer. It’s a silent killer, and that’s what scares me. By the time you finally go to your doctor, often times, it’s too late.

Exact Sciences: What is one thing that you would like people to take away from your story?

Karen: I’d like people to know that a colonoscopy isn’t as bad as you think. If you have any type of family history, don’t blow it off. If you are at the age to get screened, just please go do it. It’s called a screening test for a reason.

Exact Sciences: Within the next five years, what are your hopes for research/treatment of this disease?

Karen: In the next five years, I hope research will lead us to an easier way to screen people. Currently the overall experience is not pleasant and, because of this, a lot of people don’t go through with a colonoscopy. I think if there were an easier screening process, a lot more people would comply with their doctor’s recommendations and get screened. ABCNews.com recently interviewed Karen regarding her connection with colon cancer. To read more about her, click here.

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Topics: Hero of the Month

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