SHREVEPORT, La. — Robin Merkle knew screening for colorectal cancer — a malignancy in either the colon or rectum that can spread throughout the body — is important. After a routine colonoscopy she experienced the value of early detection.
“The found a couple of places they were concerned about,” she said.
The doctors found polyps during the screening. So, she had surgery to remove what turned out to be cancer.
“They removed those and decided I probably needed chemo to follow up,” said Merkle.
The situation came as a surprise to Merkle.
“I had gone from never being ill, to being ill,” she said. “It was very concerning.”
The chemotherapy took a toll.
“It was tough,” she said.
She had a lot of help from friends and family, and especially her caregiver husband, who took notes at every doctor visit.
“I call him a scribe,” she said with a smile. “He comes with me and takes notes, and he can listen and take care of me.”
By having a routine colonoscopy, doctors were able to catch Merkle’s cancer before it spread.
“Luckily, they caught it early enough to remove it surgically,” she said. “The chemo was a kind of maintenance.”
Dr. Anil Veluvolu, an oncologist and hematologist with Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, says early detection is key in preventing colorectal cancer from spreading.
“The issue with this disease is that it’s preventable with proper screening many times,” Veluvolu said.
Merkle has a message for anyone putting off a colonoscopy.
“Please have the early detection, don’t put it off,” she said. “And do what the doctors suggest. And listen carefully.”
And she says having someone with you at doctor visits is a real help when going through it.
“You need someone that can have a clear head that can listen and then go home and maybe digest some of the things that you heard,” Merkle said. She added that the mental stress of the situation sometimes prevents a patient from hearing everything they need to know at doctor visits.
Now, Merkle’s in a good place.
“I’m just thrilled that I’m on the mend. And they’ve gotten everything,” she said. “The Willis Knighton experience has been wonderful.”
“I think the biggest thing when a patient comes here is the fear of the unknown,” Veluvolu said. “And so we like to think we provide them with peace in dealing with their disease. And we want them to know they’re not alone. We’re going to fight with them.”
“I’m so grateful,” said Merkle.
Colonoscopy is now recommended starting at age 45. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you should have your first colonoscopy ten years before the youngest family member was diagnosed.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.