Hull, Texas resident Mary Barrier, 59, is no stranger to cancer. In 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. That same year, her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. They were both treated successfully and went on with life.
Shortly thereafter, it occurred to Barrier that although she was in her late fifties, had a history of breast cancer, and had taken care of her husband while he battled colon cancer, that she hadn’t had a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer.
During a colonoscopy, the patient is sedated while a physician examines the colon with a long camera looking for abnormalities within the inner lining of the colon and rectum. If polyps – or precancerous growths – are found, they can be removed.
According to the American Cancer Society, men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should have their first colonoscopy at age 50. Those with a family history, which now included Barrier’s grown children, should start earlier.
Armed with the knowledge that she and her eldest child should undergo screening, Barrier suggested they have their colonoscopies together and reminded him every few weeks. In November 2016, she scheduled their exams and he agreed to join her.
On Dec. 8, Barrier and her son had colonoscopies. While her son’s exam was normal, just minutes into her screening the gastroenterologist found a large growth that would require surgery. Barrier was referred to Tal Raphaeli, M.D., a colorectal surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital in Humble, Texas.
“Mary’s mass was so large that it could not be removed during her colonoscopy,” said Dr. Raphaeli. “Additionally, due to its size, we were very concerned that it was malignant.”
Just after Christmas, Barrier underwent major surgery to remove the two-inch growth and have it tested to determine if it was cancer. Barrier left the hospital with a temporary ileostomy bag and waited for the results.
“It was one of the scariest times of my life, but I can’t say enough about the positive experience I had with Dr. Raphaeli and the team at Memorial Hermann Northeast,” said Barrier. “They not only provided expert care, but also comfort when my family and I needed it most.”
Dr. Raphaeli called a week later with good news - the growth had been a large, precancerous polyp.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Barrier said. “Part of me was relieved and part of me was frustrated that I had put myself through this mess. Had I just had my colonoscopy at age 50, I probably could have avoided all of it.”
“I now consider myself a poster child for colorectal cancer screening,” she added. “While I had no symptoms, a screening test could have caught my polyp much earlier. I haven’t talked to a single person since this ordeal without asking if they’ve had a colonoscopy.”
Dr. Raphaeli reiterates that with proper screening, colorectal cancer can be prevented when it’s most curable, or even caught before it turns into cancer as in Barrier’s case. In addition to following screening guidelines by age and family history, anyone who has symptoms of colorectal cancer should consider a colonoscopy. Symptoms include: