Shirley Norman

News, Primary Care | 2 months ago

Colon Cancer Screening and Surveillance Save Lives

Meet Shirley Norman, a 66-year-old colon cancer survivor. Long after her surgery and recovery, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist continues to monitor her health through personalized survivorship care.

Shirley Norman, a resident of Elkin, North Carolina, and a retired home health worker, had her first colonoscopy when she was in her early 50s. The results were normal, so she thought she could wait a while before having another one.

At age 65, Shirley had a routine visit with her primary care doctor. During the appointment, her doctor recommended she have another colonoscopy. Shirley opted for an at-home screening test instead. The test revealed blood in her stool, which meant she needed a colonoscopy.

“There are multiple test options for colon cancer screening,” says Dr. Girish Mishra, board-certified gastroenterologist with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “However, the colonoscopy is considered to be the gold standard of screening – with a high sensitivity and specificity.” 

During her second colonoscopy, she had three polyps removed. Further testing showed that one of the polyps was cancer. At the time, Shirley wasn’t having any symptoms and was shocked by the diagnosis.

“I didn’t realize how important colonoscopies were,” Shirley says. “It really woke me up. It’s so important to get things checked out.”

Shirley decided to have her surgery at Wake Forest Baptist. Within a couple days of her primary care doctor making the referral, Shirley met with Dr. Jean Ashburn, associate professor of surgery with Wake Forest Baptist’s division of colon and rectal surgery, for her first pre-op visit.

“Our goal is to see new patients within three days of receiving their referral, so we can start treating them as quickly as possible,” Ashburn explains. “Our colon cancer team provides each patient with an individualized plan of care that’s guided by the latest research and data. The patient remains our central focus as we support them every step of the way.”

Ashburn recommended that Shirley have a minimally invasive surgery to remove the portion of her colon where the cancerous polyp grew. She also needed to have surrounding tissue cut out to ensure the removal of all cancer cells.

Shirley had her surgery on June 3, 2022. Her recovery went well thanks to her willingness to follow instructions and her strong support system.  

“Shirley’s family and friends served as advocates for her care,” says Ashburn. “They helped her make appointments to be evaluated and were instrumental in helping her get the care she needed. It’s so important to advocate for yourself or for your loved ones, whether it’s asking questions or requesting a second opinion.”

While Shirley was in the hospital, she appreciated the attentive care she received. “All the nurses were great,” she says. “They were constantly checking on me to see if they could do anything to help.”

Her care team also supported her by answering her questions freely and completely. “They took the time to go over anything I didn’t understand,” Shirley says. “I couldn’t have been any happier with how they treated me.”

The tissue surrounding her polyp proved to be cancer-free. Since her colon cancer was stage 1, she didn’t need any chemotherapy or radiation.

Personalized Monitoring and Support

Following her recovery, Shirley transitioned to the Cancer Survivorship Clinic, the first of its kind in the Wake Forest region. Located at Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center, the clinic provides surveillance (monitoring) and support services that promote wellness.

“Survivorship care goes beyond what a primary care doctor would routinely do,” explains Casey Powell, nurse practitioner with Wake Forest Baptist’s division of colon and rectal surgery. “We’re making sure patients are having the right follow-up tests and imaging. We’re holding their hand throughout their health journey to help prevent cancer recurrence.”

During the survivorship phase, Shirley has additional colonoscopies, CT scans and lab work to monitor her health.

“Our survivorship clinic assures patients that someone is still involved in their care after their cancer diagnosis and surgery,” says Powell. “Shirley knows she can call me if she has any new symptoms or follow-up questions or concerns. I’m happy to provide information related to colonoscopies, bowel habits, diet or exercise.”

The Cancer Survivorship Clinic provides surveillance and support for many years following surgery. These patients are typically seen once a year, unless they are having concerns that require more frequent visits. This is typically up to the patient and what makes them feel comfortable.

“They’re keeping an eye on me,” Shirley says. “It makes me feel like they’re staying on top of my health. If they find anything, they’ll hopefully catch it early enough – just like the colon cancer.”

Comprehensive Cancer Care

The Comprehensive Cancer Center offers a one-stop shop for cancer patients.

“We’re able to provide a lot of services that smaller facilities can’t offer, including clinical trials and investigational treatments,” explains Powell. “We’re at the leading edge of technology, trials and data for comprehensive cancer care.”

This centralized care is especially convenient for patients.

“Starting with patient scheduling and testing, we’re able to get multiple things done on the same day,” Powell continues. “So you can get a CT scan and lab work, meet with your surgeon and have a visit with your oncologist all on the same day – and in the same facility. This saves patients a lot of time and effort.”

Health Advocacy and Screenings

How does Powell feel about helping patients like Shirley?

“I have the best job in the world because I have the opportunity to help patients through their health care journey,” Powell explains. “Whatever the outcome may be, just to be able to provide compassion, information, optimism and a listening ear can make their journey through a sometimes scary situation that much better.”

Both Powell and Shirley see the need to advocate for lifesaving health screenings.

“Screening for any kind of disease (mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.) and surveillance are designed to prevent disease progression,” says Powell. “Regular screenings can save your life.”

Shirley says, “Wake Forest Baptist is the top-of-the-line place to get checked out. If you care about your health, you need to get screened.”

Learn more about colon cancer screening and cancer survivorship at Wake Forest Baptist.