Patient plans for journey ahead with regular cancer checkups

If you’ve ever gone side-by-side camping with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), you know that the goal is to get to a beautiful destination to set up camp. But in order to do so, it is likely you will have to travel over lots of bumpy, off-road trails to get there.

A bumpy road with the goal of a beautiful destination is descriptive of the journey Sandra McMinn took after her first diagnostic colonoscopy.

A professional cosmetologist, Sandra and her fiancé Arnold enjoy exploring eastern Idaho for stunning and peaceful camping sites; sites that can only be reached by their ATV.

“There are so many beautiful sites around this area,” said Sandra. “We are lucky to have a little bit of every kind of setting.”

The 53-year-old Pocatello resident grew up in the area and remains here with her 3 children and 8 grandchildren. “My dad's a civil engineer, so we traveled a lot as I grew up,” she said. “But his parents lived in St. Anthony, so our family’s home base has always been Idaho.”

First colonoscopy

Sandra scheduled her first diagnostic colonoscopy with Jonathan D. Godfrey, MD, a gastroenterologist with Portneuf Medical Group. “I intended to get my first colonoscopy at age 50, but I was 3 years late. I just knew it was important and needed to get done,” she said.

During a colonoscopy, the doctor uses a long, thin, flexible tube, equipped with a light and camera at the end that is connected to a monitor. After sedating the patient to become unconscious, the doctor inserts the tube into the rectum to visually check for polyps or cancer throughout the entire colon.

A polyp is a piece of tissue that grows inside your body. Most polyps are not dangerous, though some may be cancerous or may develop into a cancerous tumor. To be safe, gastroenterologists remove polyps for testing.

The doctor prescribes a liquid laxative that the patient drinks the night before and the morning of the colonoscopy. This will clear out all the fecal matter in the colon that may hide the polyps as the cleanse allows for a better diagnostic view of the colon.

A couple of days before taking the laxative, a patient should refrain from high-fiber foods like beans and nuts, which coat the colon with fiber. The day before the laxative, patients should switch to an all-liquid diet. Please consult your provider for further directions when scheduled for a colonoscopy.

While Sandra had her first colonoscopy at age 50, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend that adults start regular screenings for colon cancer at age 45.

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you start earlier or have more frequent colonoscopies if you have:

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
  • A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)

If nothing is found during a colonoscopy, your healthcare provider may recommend that you wait 10 years to repeat the test. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults age 76 to 85 talk to their doctor about screening.

Testing and diagnosis

After Sandra’s colonoscopy, Dr. Godfrey told her that he removed 4 large polyps, one of which was pretty high up in the colon. A few days later, Sandra got a call asking her to visit Dr. Godfrey in his office. “I hung up and thought, ‘Oh no, I wonder if there is a problem with 1 of the large ones,’” she said.

When she got to Dr. Godfrey’s office, she received the news that the large polyp was actually a cancerous tumor at Stage 1, which means the cancer was confined to a small area and hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes or other tissues.

Complicating her diagnosis was the fact that Sandra doesn’t know if she has a family history of colon cancer.

“I was adopted after I was born in Thailand,” explained Sandra. “My biological father served there while in the Army. My biological mother and her family are all from Thailand. There’s a big language barrier between us, so I don’t know much about their health history. I think I had a sister who passed away from some kind of cancer, but I’m not sure.”

In her case, Dr. Godfrey and the pathologist could not be 100 percent certain that they had been able to remove all the cancer so Sandra was scheduled for additional blood analysis, an MRI and a CT scan.

After a consult with a local surgeon, Sandra was informed that the area was too high in her colon to reach. Sandra was referred to a surgical oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. Once there, she underwent surgery.

“I am so thankful for Dr. Godfrey’s care and moving so quickly to get me where I needed to be,” Sandra said. “Dr. Martin in Utah was also wonderful. I am extremely lucky my cancer was caught so early and removed. I can’t stress enough the importance of these checkups.”

The road forward

In order to monitor that area of her colon, Sandra has regular tests scheduled every 6 months to make sure additional polyps and tumors do not reappear.

In addition to the educational materials she received from both Portneuf Medical Center and the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Sandra is taking it upon herself to eat a healthier diet for her condition.

“I always thought I ate pretty healthy foods,” Sandra said, “but as I read more on how to prevent colon cancer, I decided to make some changes. I am now eating less meat, more vegetables and fiber and drinking lots of water.”

Now back to work full time, Sandra says she definitely feels better.

“I didn’t realize how bad I was feeling because of the colon cancer. Looking back, I had all the symptoms, but now I have a lot more energy. I’m just going to take life a little slower and enjoy it all.”

Hopefully, the road ahead for Sandra will not include any more bumps along the way.

If you are 45 or older and have never had a colonoscopy, schedule one today. Read more and schedule your screening today at //