No excuse for putting off colonoscopy screening

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 19, 2021

Special to the Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Dianne Parker, director of health information management at Merit Health Natchez, has been in the healthcare profession for nearly 40 years.

Ask anyone at the hospital about Dianne, and they will tell you she is extremely intelligent, knowledgeable, professional and excellent at her job.

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Despite working in the medical field, despite pleas from her primary care physician, despite knowing the risks, and despite her knowledge of seeing first-hand what delaying health care can do; Dianne did what so many of us do.

She put off having a colonoscopy screening when she turned 50. Another birthday would roll around, and she would tell herself she would schedule it soon. After all, she had no symptoms and no family history of colon cancer.

Like many, the pandemic helped open her eyes to how fragile life can be. The pandemic reminded her that her health should be a priority to her.

As with any illness, whether fighting a common cold, COVID-19 or recovering from a heart attack, your chances of a full recovery often depend on how healthy you were prior to the illness.

Dianne decided it was time to take charge of her health. Plus, with a loving husband, kids, grandkids, and yes, her beloved dogs, she knew she had many reasons to be healthy and enjoy life.

After more than 10 years of saying, “I’ll do it next year,” Dianne finally scheduled her first screening colonoscopy at the beginning of 2021.

While the prep work admittedly was no fun, Dianne was amazed at how quickly and easily she went through the procedure.

She was ready to check this off her list and move on to her overdue mammography screening.

Dr. Blane Mire, the physician who performed her colonoscopy, was not quite so ready to let Dianne check this procedure off her list and move on.

“Dianne, I found a large mass in your colon,” Dr. Mire said.

After hearing this, Dianne’s thoughts started racing. Thoughts such as how long has this mass been growing and is it cancer? Has it spread? Will I have to have chemo? Surgery? Why did I put this off for all these years? How can I encourage people to not delay their health screenings?

In time, Dianne would have the answers to all of those thoughts and questions that raced through her mind in those initial seconds after hearing the words “you have a large mass in your colon.”

Dianne will be the first to tell you she is grateful for the outcome, as it could have been much worse. The mass was malignant.

It’s possible it had been growing for more than 10 years, but it was contained within her colon.

Dr. Geoffrey Flattmann performed her surgery, removing the mass along with part of her colon, as well as taking numerous lymph nodes to be biopsied.

The pathology report showed no signs of cancer in her lymph nodes.

After follow up with Dr. Jack Rodriguez, oncologist, Dianne’s PET scan revealed no signs of cancer in her body and no chemotherapy treatment is needed.

Dr. Rodriguez will continue to follow her and, of course, she will be diligent with her follow up colonoscopies.

The last eight weeks were a whirlwind of screening, testing, surgery and doctor visits for Dianne.

The end result of making a full recovery and having peace of mind about her health is a great feeling for Dianne. As for her mammography screening? She had it done and all results were normal.

This leaves that one question Dianne had race through her mind in those seconds after hearing she had a mass.

How can I encourage people to not delay their health screenings?

Dianne has not missed an opportunity to talk about the importance of a screening colonoscopy.

Though normally a private person, Dianne said she realized her story needed to be told.

“I work in the medical profession and knew the importance of a screening colonoscopy but chose to delay it out of fear, embarrassment, finding the time, and the list of excuses could go on and on,” said Dianne.

“Dr. Flattmann was able to perform my surgery robotically, enabling me to experience minimal pain and a quicker recovery. I was back at work within three weeks after surgery.

“Please, if you are age 50 or older, set up an appointment with your primary care physician and get your screening scheduled. There really is no excuse.”