‘It’s better to know than not know’
When Gale Anderson turned 50, it was time to get her first routine colonoscopy and check for colon cancer. Having never had a colonoscopy, she was hesitant to do it.
“At the time, I wasn’t aware of any history of colon cancer in my family, so I decided to put off getting a colonoscopy,” says Anderson.
Over the years, she learned of several friends who had been recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Because they knew she was putting off getting her colonoscopy, and after their experiences with colon cancer, they encouraged Anderson to get checked out, but she was still unsure about it.
In March 2022, at age 63, Anderson’s primary care doctor convinced her to have her first colonoscopy. During the procedure, they found a flat polyp and some abnormal areas in her colon. A polyp is a growth of cells that form on the colon’s lining which can develop into cancer. Anderson had another colonoscopy the following month to take another look at the abnormal areas. Surgery was then recommended to remove the polyp and to determine if it was colon cancer.
“Even if it doesn’t feel like you are experiencing any abnormal symptoms, the purpose of a screening is to proactively prevent something from happening,” says Dr. Nadia Huq, gastroenterologist with Aurora Medical Center – Washington County, who performed Anderson’s colonoscopies. “Regular colon screenings help get ahead of any problems.”
Anderson knew she wanted to find the least invasive procedure possible.
So, Dr. James Larson, surgeon with Aurora Medical Center – Grafton, performed a minimally invasive robotic surgery on Anderson to remove the polyp in her colon along with the concerning areas hiding behind the polyp.
“Thankfully the tests came back clear and Gale did not have colon cancer, but not everyone receives this fortunate news,” says Dr. Larson.
About 1 in 23 men and 1 in 26 women will develop colon cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
Several months post-surgery, Anderson is doing great. And after over a decade of delaying a colonoscopy, she learned that her family does in fact have a history of colon cancer.
Now, she is the one who is encouraging others to get screened like her friends once encouraged her.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, and even if you don’t have symptoms of anything being wrong, it’s better to know than not know,” she shares.
Anderson credits her friends, family and care team for supporting her throughout her procedures and recovery — making her future colonoscopies a lot less intimidating.
About the Author
Hannah Koerner is a Public Affairs Specialist with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. In her free time, she enjoys biking, snowshoeing, and cheering on Wisconsin sports teams.