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Against all odds, a woman beats stage IV colon cancer

“I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer in January 2007,” says Beth Phillips, RN, a Piedmont Fayette Hospital patient. “The summer before I was diagnosed, I had pseudomembranous colitis, which is a bad infection in your colon.” Her gastroenterologist, Bryan Woods, M.D., prescribed antibiotics and because she was so sick, they decided to postpone a colonoscopy. At the time, she was 47; the recommended age to begin routine colonoscopies was 50*.

*The American Cancer Society updated its screening guidelines in May 2018, lowering the recommended screening age from 50 to 45.

Six months later, in December 2006, Phillips began experiencing rectal bleeding again. She returned to Dr. Woods, who told her she needed to have a colonoscopy.

During the procedure, he found a large tumor at the junction of her sigmoid colon and rectum. When she awoke from the anesthesia, she was admitted to the hospital and was told she had stage IV colorectal cancer, meaning it had spread to other organs and tissues. Prior to the infection, Phillips never had any symptoms. “With the pseudomembranous colitis, there was diarrhea, bleeding and all kinds of symptoms, but they attributed that to the infection,” she explains.

The grueling treatment process

To fight the cancer, Phillips had to undergo a colon resection, complete hysterectomy and pelvic radiation. During treatment, she was scanned again for cancer and was told that it had spread to her liver. After radiation, she had four chemotherapy treatments, followed by surgery to remove 60 percent of her liver. She recovered from the surgery and completed 12 treatments of chemotherapy.

“They put a stent in and back to chemo I go,” she says. “I went through 12 more treatments of chemo and during that time, I was consulting with Dr. Scott Davidson, who is a surgical oncologist.” Dr. Davidson removed Phillips’ right kidney, right ureter and part of her bladder.

The mental and physical aspects of treatment

“It’s grueling going through all that,” she says. “The radiation is like sunburn on your colon. Food and everything you do affects you. You go through chemotherapy and start out okay, but it’s cumulative and by the end, you’re exhausted.” Not only are the physical symptoms difficult to manage, the mental aspect of treatment is also exhausting.

“It’s very difficult to describe the fatigue and you get so tired of it all,” she says. “You’re so impatient and have to realize that it’s the treatment that’s really getting you down – it’s not the cancer.” Despite an extremely tough treatment process, Phillips remained positive. “You have to keep your mind on the fact that, ‘I’m going to get through this treatment and I am going to get better,’” she says. “And I did.”

For more information on colon cancer prevention and treatment, visit Piedmont Cancer Center.

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