“It could have been prevented”
After losing her father-in-law to colon cancer nearly six years ago, Joanna Michniak made it her mission to stop any other family from experiencing the same preventable loss.
Michniak, a nurse at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill., had tried to convince her father-in-law to get a screening colonoscopy for years, but he never relented. He lived only seven months after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
“My father-in-law never had a colonoscopy done, so by the time they found his cancer, it was too late,” Michniak said. “It was devastating because it could have been prevented.”
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the U.S., but it is easily diagnosed and highly treatable in its earliest stage. A screening colonoscopy can prevent cancer by removing pre-cancerous polyps or detecting the cancer at an early stage. That’s a message Michniak stresses when she gives presentations to different community groups about the importance of colonoscopies.
Michniak has been giving presentations to different community groups over Zoom since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During her 25-minute presentation, she reinforces that screening colonoscopies are recommended for women and men every 10 years, beginning at age 50. These screenings are critical even during pandemic, she explains.
“Waiting two or three years when you’ve never had a colonoscopy done is not a safe choice,” Michniak said. “Polyps do not stop forming regardless of what’s going on in the outside world.”
She also answers questions and guides them to Advocate’s Direct Access Screening Colonoscopy program, which allows eligible patients to schedule colonoscopies without a prior visit to a gastroenterologist.
“We want the public to know we are here to help you and make the process easier,” Michniak recently told the Daily Herald. “We can give them peace of mind simply by answering a few questions.”
Michniak’s efforts have recently turned to local fire departments, including the Barrington-Countryside Fire Protection District. Deputy Chief Scott Motisi said Michniak’s message aligns with his department’s goal to create a healthy environment. Although most of the department’s members are under 40, the presentation serves as a starting point to talk about a topic they otherwise might avoid.
“We deal with acute illness, but we also have those opportunities where we have the ear of our family members and our community as well,” Motisi said. “Our members can bring this information home and discuss it.”
For Michniak, reaching even one person in the room makes her work worth it.
“If I can save at least one person’s life by getting the information to them early,” Michniak said, “that makes all the difference in the world.”
About the Author
Katie Dahlstrom, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. A storyteller at her core, she is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly five years working as a public relations professional for Chicago’s commuter rail agency, Metra. Outside of work, she enjoys birding, photography and spending time with her husband and dog.