Stay on top of health during Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Seen here with her daughter Katelyn Hernandez, Melinda Teixeira, right, is now in the middle of her "surveillance period," as her doctors called it, following her colon cancer diagnosis last year. Courtesy image: Terry Kanakri

Physicians, health experts and cancer survivors recommend that people who are 40 years old and above should be screened for colon cancer, a message to coincide with Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March.

One story of catching the disease in time comes from Canyon Country resident Melinda Teixeira, who visited her doctor in February 2018 after feeling some digestive discomfort. In the discussion that followed, she mentioned that her mother was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer at 50 years old.

At 43, she was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer and was in surgery within the next 10 days. By mid-June, she began chemotherapy treatment. She’s now cancer-free.

Colon cancer, also called colorectal cancer, is very preventable with routine screening and treatable upon early detection, said Dr. Gina Lin, a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente Santa Clarita Medical Offices, who treated Teixeira.

People who have a family history of the disease, like Teixeira, are recommended to undergo a screening 10 years younger than the age of the first degree relative who was diagnosed, according to Dr. Cindy Uypitching, family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Canyon Country Medical Offices.

Uypitching also suggested people keep an eye on any rectal bleeding or changes in stool patterns, along with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. The five-year survival rate for colon cancer that’s localized is about 90 percent, Lin said.

“The most important thing about colon health is eating healthy,” said Uypitching. “Eat your fiber, that’s bottom line. High fat diets increase risk for colon cancer. Obesity is an increased risk. It starts with eating healthy. Know family history, talk to family members. Listen to your body, if something is not right, talk to your doctor about it. This is where we come in.”

Still within her “surveillance period” of monitoring her health, Teixeira said she’s back at work while also keeping health a top priority. She believes survivors need to become their own advocate and know that early screenings can help save lives.

“It seems like it really escalated very quickly, but I’m thankful for that,” Teixeira said. “I didn’t allow my mind to go into a dark place. I knew that having a mom with stage 2 and knew what the surgery would be like, while also having a great support system at home. I have kids, a 23-year-old and a 14-year-old daughter who really rallied around to help a lot. They wanted to see me get better.”

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