Amy Rainey knew something wasn't quite right when she couldn't shake nagging discomfort in her abdomen. At first, she thought her perimenopause may cause changes to the way her body digested foods. But when the bleeding showed up in her bowel movements in January 2020, Amy knew she needed medical attention.
Amy's symptoms didn't set off immediate alarm bells with her doctor. She had no family history with cancer. At age 45, autoimmune disease, inflammation or irritable bowel syndrome were possibilities. A change in diet, activity and medication may relieve her symptoms.
But Amy asked for a colon screening right away. As a clinical research professional, she knew the importance of advocating for herself. That meant asking questions, getting another opinion and not ignoring the warning signs.
Early detection matters with colorectal cancer
Most people under age 50 think they don't have to worry about colorectal cancer. Yet, cases are on the rise among younger adults. Colon cancer cases in adults under age 50 have jumped 55 percent since 1995.
Colorectal cancer screenings are now available for adults at average risk starting at age 45. The move to lower the start age is based on recommendations by the American Cancer Society, American College of Gastroenterology and the United States Preventive Task Force.
Partnership between patient and provider
Age wasn’t the driving factor for Amy to request a colonoscopy. She knew cancer happens at any age. She also knew the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the more treatment options are available.
Amy pushed forward, even in the midst of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, to get answers about what was going on in her body. With a referral from her primary care doctor to Goshen Physicians Gastroenterology, she scheduled virtual visits with Gastroenterologist Ross Heil, DO. He scheduled Amy for a colonoscopy at Goshen Surgery Center as soon as outpatient procedures resumed.
"The pathology was inconclusive," Amy said. "But Dr. Heil said, 'I know what I saw.'" That gave Amy the confidence to have another screening at Goshen Hospital with more diagnostic tools available.
The second colonoscopy resulted in a diagnosis – Stage 2B adenocarcinoma of the colon. It's the most common type of colorectal cancers. The cancer starts in cells that make mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum.
For Amy, a colon resection was the obvious treatment option. Ashley Hardy, MD, Surgical Oncologist at Goshen Center for Cancer Care, removed about a foot of Amy's intestine. Amy came out of surgery with good news that the surgery had gone well and the margins around the site of the lesions were clean. She could expect to recover normal bowel movements within a few days.
The prognosis was welcome news for Amy and her husband, who was her biggest supporter. They were fortunate to have family in the Goshen area who could help care for their two young children while Amy recovered.
Today, Amy is on a mission to spread the word that early detection completely changes outcomes. She also wants to teach others to advocate for themselves and speak up about their need to find clear answers.
"You are the expert with your own body," she said. "Trust yourself and don't be afraid to ask questions until you get answers you're satisfied with."
Amy also believes in preventive medicine. With the lower age to start colon screenings, Amy has already scheduled her husband for his first colonoscopy as soon as he turns 45 this year.