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Published on January 22, 2018

Couple's Colonoscopy

Leads to Cancer-Fighting Treatment

Ron and MAry Ann Spitzer

Ron and Mary Ann Spitzer

Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

If you have any of these issues, it is important to see a doctor so the cause can be found and treated:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark stools or blood in the stool
  • Abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Source: American Cancer Society

Mary Ann Spitzer has worked in a hospital—specifically Palos—for most of her adult life. Yet even she was surprised when her employer became her place for care after illness hit. Fortunately, early detection and cancer-fighting treatments helped Mary Ann get back to all her regular activities, including a job she loves.

In early 2015, Mary Ann opted to receive a physical and detailed lab workup as part of her annual health screening. Her blood work reflected some levels that were concerning to her doctor, P. Gregory Striegel, M.D., who suggested she have a colonoscopy. The next week, she and her husband, Ron, made a date to have their first colonoscopies together at Palos Hospital with gastroenterologist Vincent Muscarello, M.D. Ron received a good report, but Maryann learned she had stage three colon cancer and would need immediate surgery (by Dr. Sanath Kumar, M.D.) to remove a large tumor. After the surgery Mary Ann underwent six months of chemotherapy under oncologist Dr. Wasif Shirazi, M.D.

Although the diagnosis happened quickly for Mary Ann, she had been struggling with not feeling well for months. “I had felt very for a few months, but with the busyness of the holidays and family responsibilities I didn’t think much of it,” she said. “I knew my employee physical was coming up and figured I’d address the fatigue with my doctor then.”

According to the American Cancer Society, fatigue is one sign of colon cancer. (See box at right for other potential signs.) As with any symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for a complete diagnosis. “Had Mary Ann not come in for a colonoscopy when she did, the tumor most likely would have grown in just a couple weeks to create a blockage that would have put her in the Emergency Department,” explained Dr. Muscarello.

Although Mary Ann had to transition from employee to patient, she was able to appreciate her care at Palos in a new way. “There’s a very warm and a comforting feeling about the patient spaces at Palos. And the care that I received here has been outstanding."

Mary Ann's specific treatment program requires her to be on oral chemotherapy medication as maintenance, and Dr. Shirazi carefully monitors her condition at regular office visits.

“My husband and my sons Kyle, Kevin, and Ron have been so supportive, as have my in-laws, my seven siblings and my friends. But I won’t forget how the management and staff of my department encouraged me with cards, flowers, phone calls and visits. The support from everyone at Palos contributed to what I believe to be the best care on the South Side.”

Talk with your doctor about scheduling a colonoscopy. Need a doctor? Visit the Find a Doctor page on our site.