‘I Was Lucky’: Raising Colorectal Cancer Awareness

wendy-deweyBy Wendy Dewey

In April 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 3B rectal cancer. This diagnosis came as a big surprise to me as well as my doctors, family and friends. The recommendation for colorectal cancer screening begins starting at age 50. So when I started having symptoms for this disease at age 36, the possibility that it may be colorectal cancer, at first, was at the bottom of my list.

My symptoms started in December 2009. John and I had taken a road trip down to visit my family in Florida. While I was there, I noticed that I had become constipated. I associated this with being in a car for long periods of time and not eating well while traveling. This persisted on and off even after we came back from Florida.

Somewhere between January and February 2010, I started noticing some blood in my stool. Since nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed are over the age of 50, I thought it could be anything but colorectal cancer. This concerned me, but I was still having constipation, so I assumed I had possibly done some internal damage that was causing this occasional bleeding.

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A Few Words From Our Patients

We frequently hear from patients and their family members who want to thank the doctors, nurses and other staff members for their care at Rush. And every so often we seize the opportunity to share them. Here are just a few of the kind comments Rush received in 2015.

Keeping Pace With Atrial Fibrillation

heart-rate-running
By Thurston Hatcher

On a cool, sunny morning last October, as tens of thousands of runners raced east toward downtown, I was watching the Chicago Marathon from eight floors up, in a hospital room at Rush University Medical Center.

Instead of attempting what would have been my 11th 26.2-miler, I was being treated for atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat — or arrhythmia — that made it tough for me to run very fast, or very far.

I was diagnosed the previous spring, after weeks of struggling to run the 8:30-minute-per-mile pace that had become routine for me over the last 10 years. Even during relatively brief, three-mile outings, I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath.

So I went to see my primary care doctor at Rush, who ordered the electrocardiogram that immediately revealed my arrhythmia. To be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised. I had suspected for several years, particularly after long marathon training runs, that my heartbeat was a little off. But even though I’m pretty health-conscious — maybe even borderline hypochondriac — I failed to appreciate that it could be something serious.

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Well, Past 100

Norman Prestine and Penfield Faber, MDNorman Prestine was 88 years old when he was diagnosed with two cancerous masses in his chest in 2001. He came to Rush to undergo surgery to remove them, and he’s come back each of the 13 years since then.

During his recent annual follow-up visit, the hale 101-year-old said hello to his surgeon, Penfield Faber, MD, a relative youth at 84. “It’s always a pleasure to see somebody you’ve operated on for cancer who’s alive and doing well,” says Faber, an emeritus professor of thoracic surgery.

Prestine’s longevity is all the more remarkable for his ability to undergo major surgery in his late 80s, which Faber also performed after first carefully assessing his condition. “He was physiologically much younger than his stated age,” the doctor says. “He was working out. He had all the physical parameters of a younger man. It was apparent that from the shape he was in that would withstand the procedure.”

Prestine attributes his longevity to the basics — eating right and exercising. He walks half an hour on a stair climber in the morning and another 30 minutes on a treadmill in the evening, and eats “everything within reason.”

He was accompanied on his visit to Rush by his wife, Nancy, 86. The couple, who have known each other since the 1960s, married in 1993 after each of their first spouses of more than 40 years passed away. The Prestines live in their own home on Chicago’s northwest side and keep busy with seniors club activities.

Faber performed surgery for more than 50 years before he set aside his scalpel in 2006, retiring from clinical care altogether the next year. But he still continues to teach surgery residents.

Couple Wed in Last Days Together

Marco Christina Wedding_05A surprise proposal, and then a wedding, in a cancer unit at Rush

Marco Contreras proposed to Cristina Tecanhuehue around 9 p.m. on June 25. She said yes, and they were married the following afternoon in a small, intimate ceremony.

It was a bittersweet moment for a young couple that had been dating for two years. Their wedding and all the preparations — even Contreras’ proposal — took place at Rush University Medical Center, where Tecanhuehue was being treated for cervical cancer.

On July 1, five days after the ceremony, the 28-year-old Tecanhuehue passed away. Her new husband was at her bedside, holding her hand.

“We had the wedding to comfort her and give her some closure and to give us some closure,” says Tecanhuehue’s uncle, Javier Torres.

He praised the Rush staff for making it possible. “This is the right profession for them, because they show compassion,” Torres said. “The quality of the organization and the people they have as staff has been a blessing for our family.”

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Samantha’s Story: ‘An Amazing, Healthy Daughter’

Samantha, age 6By Maria Dimond

On December 30, 2007, my husband Rich and I drove to Rush at 2 in the morning because I had a fever of 102. I was not quite 26 weeks pregnant, and I was barely showing. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would be parents that day. It was just a fever.

However, it was a fever indicating that I might have a sick baby inside of me. Dr. Patricia Boatwright made the right decision to deliver, and it was confirmed that Samantha was a very sick baby. She had an infection and stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit at Rush for 14 weeks.

The phrase “a deer in headlights” definitely described Rich and me. That parental bond took a very long time to develop for us. Initially we heard “Mom” or “Dad” and our first instinct was to look around for someone else.  We also called our daughter “baby” and had to force ourselves to call her Samantha. We enjoyed being around our baby and did everything asked of us while Samantha was in the NICU. But that deep bond just wasn’t there for these first-time parents. Not like now. I realize now how overwhelmed we were.

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Dolores’ Story: Treatment for a Brain Aneurysm

When Dolores Castillo learned she had an aneurysm in her carotid artery, she knew she had to do something about it. Soon.

She was referred to Demetrius Lopez, MD, a neuroendovascular surgeon at Rush.

“I felt totally comfortable with him, I liked his bedside manner, and ultimately he was the doctor that I chose,” she says. “He spent a lot of time with me and explained the procedure.”

Under the care of Lopes and the neuroendovascular team at Rush, she underwent a cerebral stenting procedure to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing.

“I think when you mention brain surgery, it sounds like a serious surgery, and it was,” she says. “But I’m doing everything that I did normally. I’m active, I do yoga, I run, and my recovery was a lot shorter than expected.”

As for her experience at Rush: “I felt like I was in a boutique hotel, and I was in downtown Chicago. It was really that good.”

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Bill’s Story: Cerebral Angioplasty After a Stroke

Bill Metcalf’s stroke came, like so many, “out of nowhere.”

“I had no symptoms for it, it was not on my general practitioner’s watch list, and fortunately I came out of it OK,” he says.

But over the next year, Metcalf experienced disorientation and a sense that “something wasn’t right.” Upon meeting with neurosurgeon Demetrius Lopes, MD, he opted to undergo a cerebral angioplasty to treat a narrowed artery in his brain.

“My family’s had way more experience with this hospital than any family should … and then I come in and do a cerebral angioplasty.”

“It’s like I think we’ve tested every department here, and without fail, Rush has always been 100 percent tops.”