Editor’s Note: Madeline Stockbridge submitted this story by email after receiving the print edition of the Sharing Mayo Clinic newsletter. She wrote “After reading the latest issue of Sharing Mayo Clinic, I had to submit my story. Ning Chieng’s words ‘The sky seems bluer and the air smells fresher.’ were exactly what I said to my husband after this year’s cancer free check-up at Mayo -a five year milestone. I owe my health to the Mayo Clinic.”
“Promise me you’ll get check-ups” my brother, Howie, pleaded as he was dying of colon cancer at the age of 35. This was in the 1970’s and even though we’d lost our mom to this cancer 5 years earlier, little was known about the genetic link. I tried to keep my promise by making an appointment with an internist soon after losing my brother. I was 33 at the time and the doctor examined me but then said, “You’re a perfectly healthy young woman but if you’re going to go home and worry about cancer I can’t help you.” I felt like a hypochondriac and avoided going back.
Several years later I had symptoms that I could not ignore and went to a very caring, concerned doctor who ordered tests to discover that I had precancerous tissue in my uterus and needed a hysterectomy. Coming so close to cancer made me think about my brother and I decided I should check out having routine screenings for colon cancer. I started having colonoscopies every 3 years as was the protocol.
In 2004 the gastroenterologist stood in the doorway of the recovery room after completing my colonoscopy and informed my husband and me that I had cancer and needed my entire colon removed. We went home stunned and in shock and phoned our daughter living in OR who was expecting to see us at the airport the next day. She immediately researched on the computer and with my husband’s cousin who is a doctor. When she called us back it was with recommendations of medical facilities who knew about genetic colon cancer. We decided on the Mayo Clinic as it is closer to our home in WI and in my insurance network. As my husband called the clinic I’m thinking, how will we get in we’re just ordinary people not the Shah of Iran. They took us immediately and were so incredibly concerned about my welfare that we were instantly bowled over. When my husband’s cousin recommended a particular surgeon, we timidly asked if it would be possible to have her do my surgery and the nurse said, “Let me check her schedule.” The operation was a success and they left me with a foot of colon and a normal life. Most importantly we learned all about the genetic syndrome I have called Lynch and the importance of annual screening.
I’m healthy and alive and grateful for the research my family did plus the outstanding care I received and still receive at the Mayo Clinic. My mother and brother did not get the opportunity to see the advances research about genetic conditions has yielded. My brother didn’t know it at the time but he saved my life, which is his legacy.
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