The story behind her blue dress

The story behind her blue dress

Michelle Fenske arrived to work on Friday, March 1 wearing a blue dress. In Fenske’s role as a patient service representative at Aurora Medical Center – Grafton, dressing up isn’t unusual. It was the color of her outfit, and the meaning behind it, that made the day so special.

Dress in Blue Day is an annual observance, held the first Friday in March, bringing awareness to colorectal cancer. Fenske chose to wear blue in honor of her mother, Nadine Hill, who died from colorectal cancer at 61 years old. Hill spent her career working in health care as a certified nursing assistant.

“My mom was one of the strongest women in the world,” says Fenske. “She worked incredibly hard to take care of her patients. I’ve learned that sometimes health care professionals don’t take care of themselves.”

Fenske says her mom was embarrassed to address warning signs of colorectal cancer with her doctor. As the mother of five children, Hill didn’t think her symptoms – fluctuating weight, hemorrhoids and blood in her stool – were anything out of the ordinary. By the time she did tell her doctor, at 58 years old, it was too late. Hill had stage 4 colorectal cancer.

“When it got to that point, doctors tried everything they could,” explains Fenske. “My mom had rounds of chemo, radiation and a colostomy bag. She lost her beautiful dark hair.”

There’s not one day that goes by where Fenske doesn’t think of her mother. She’s now made it her mission to educate and encourage others to schedule their routine colonoscopy. She also takes pride in wearing blue on a day dedicated to colorectal cancer awareness.

“One test can save your life,” says Fenske. “It’s uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as stage 4 cancer.”

Since losing her mother, Fenske has a colonoscopy every few years. Nearly every time, doctors have removed pre-cancerous polyps from her colon.

“If I would have waited to get screened, I could be suffering the same fate as my mom,” warns Fenske.

For those who don’t have a family history of colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy is recommended starting at the age of 45. If experiencing symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, change in bowel habits, blood in the stool or severe weight loss, experts recommend scheduling a screening as soon as possible.

“Thanks to my story, I’ve had several coworkers approach me and say they’re getting a colonoscopy,” explains Fenske. “If there’s one thing I want people to remember, it’s colonoscopies save lives.”

Want to learn more about your risk for colorectal cancer? Take a free online quiz.

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About the Author

Danielle Mandella
Danielle Mandella

Danielle Mandella, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator in Greater Milwaukee, Wis.