When asked, Rita Roberts, 71, of Orlando, doesn’t think her story is special. The fact that she beat stage IV colorectal cancer speaks otherwise.
In 2006, the semi-retired commercial interior designer was facing stage IV cancer that had spread to her liver. After telling Rita the cancer was incurable, her doctor ordered chemotherapy and suggested she get her affairs in order.
Rita’s daughter, Alesia Keller, refused to concede and began researching better options. That’s when they met Ahmed Zakari, MD, medical director of Gastrointestinal Cancers for the AdventHealth Cancer Institute, and Timothy Childers, MD, general surgeon.
“I feel certain if we hadn’t found Drs. Zakari and Childers that Mom wouldn’t be here,” Alesia says. “They were very aggressive in her treatment, and I believe that made the difference.”
After two operations to remove the cancer and more than 60 percent of her liver, as well as reconstructing her colon and several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Rita’s cancer is in remission.
The Power Of Screening
Rita admits she didn’t go for regular screenings. The closest she came, she says, was a stool test (fecal occult blood test) three years earlier.
“While cancers of the colon and rectum [the last sections of the digestive system] are extremely common, they’re some of the most curable when detected early,” says Dr. Zakari. “That’s because most colorectal cancers start as small, non-cancerous tissue growths called polyps. Finding and removing these polyps stops cancer before it starts.”
For some folks, there’s still a stigma attached with the test because it involves a part of the body and bodily functions that most people don’t discuss in polite conversation. A recent report from the Colon Cancer Alliance, a patient advocacy group, noted fear as the main reason older adults cited to explain why they hadn’t gone for a colonoscopy.
Rita hopes by sharing her story that she can persuade others to get past this attitude and go for the test that could save their lives.
“Now I go for a colonoscopy regularly, and I recommend it to everyone I know,” she says.
After all, Rita plans to be around for a long time to enjoy her family and travel extensively.