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Tammy's Colonoscopy Story

by UPMC Susquehanna

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With her first grandchild on the way, Tammy Welshans, 49, looks forward to enjoying many milestones with her family. The Rauchtown resident credits her recent colonoscopy with making that future possible.

“There aren’t a lot of situations where patients can add years to their lives,” says Dr. Heather Gerst, a gastroenterologist at Susquehanna Health Digestive Disease Center. “But the technology we have with colonoscopy allows us to find and remove polyps to prevent or stop colon cancer early. That can be the difference between a treatable condition and one that is too advanced for successful treatment.”

Colon cancer wasn’t on Tammy’s radar when she came to Dr. Gerst because of difficulty swallowing. During a review of symptoms and family history, Tammy shared that her grandmother died of colon cancer at age 63 and her mother had several polyps removed. Tammy had recently experienced blood and a slight change in her stools. All of this prompted Dr. Gerst to recommend a colonoscopy. Tammy was reluctant. Because of her family history, she was fearful of the results. “I put my arms around Tammy and told her she needed this screening for her health, and I assured her that we would take care of her,” says Dr. Gerst.

AN ESSENTIAL SCREENING

After preparing with the prescribed solution—which “really wasn’t too bad”— Tammy arrived at Susquehanna Health Endoscopy on the fourth floor of Williamsport Regional Medical Center. “I was very nervous. I called earlier and mentioned that Jean Shea was a nurse who helped me with my previous test, and they said they’d see what they could do about having her help me again. She’s been there every time after that,” says Tammy. “As for the procedure, they put me right out. I don’t remember a thing.”

During a colonoscopy, gastroenterologists gain a clear view of the smooth wall of the colon. They can see and remove anything abnormal, such as polyps—tiny growths that can advance into cancerous tumors. Dr. Saadullah Khan found and removed two polyps from Tammy’s colon.

A LIFESAVING EARLY DIAGNOSIS

When Dr. Gerst told Tammy one of the polyps tested positive for cancer, she explained that the blood in her stools, which likely came from internal hemorrhoids, had saved her life by prompting the colonoscopy. “Tammy is especially lucky because with young patients like her, we see more aggressive forms of the disease,” says Dr. Gerst. Going forward, regular screenings will help Tammy stay vigilant for any new polyps. She also says she’s encouraging others to make sure they get screened. “It was something I was so afraid of, and it actually is what saved my life.”