Horror writer James Dean (yes, he knows his name is cool), who has published countless short stories and one full-length zombie apocalypse novel, The Dying World: The End Begins, doesn’t scare easily. This is good, considering he’s no stranger to a doctor’s office. Since being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful inflammatory disease that can cause vertebrae in the spine to fuse together and make it difficult to breathe deeply, he’s been under the care of many doctors. And because one of the medications he regularly takes can increase his risk of developing certain cancers, he is careful to report any unusual symptoms to his primary care doctor.
Erring on the side of caution
“I was experiencing some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which is common for people with my disease, but my primary care doctor wanted to err on the side of caution, so he referred me to [Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist] Ashish Arora, MD, at West Suburban Medical Center, for a colonoscopy,” he says.
It was a good thing James followed through with that referral. The colonoscopy found multiple polyps that required immediate removal and biopsy.
“Dr. Arora was very easy to understand and spent a lot of time with me going over his findings, and what they would mean for me,” James says.
Caught just in time
The polyps turned out to be precancerous, and they were caught just in time.
“To quote Dr. Arora, ‘thank God I came in when I did,’” James said. “I should also thank my wife, Sarah, who annoyed me just enough for me to make the appointment.”
James was surprised by the colonoscopy’s findings, and he wasn’t the only one.
“The thing that really stands out for me, is how shocked some people were that, at 39-years-old, I was preparing for a procedure that I shouldn’t have needed for years,” he says. “But no one was more surprised than me when Dr. Arora actually found something fairly significant.”
James had surgery at WSMC to have the polyps removed soon after they were discovered. His most recent follow-up colonoscopy found no new occurrences.
“Fortunately the follow-up colonoscopy showed nothing new, but the fact that they found something once means I will need to repeat the procedure more often than I would like in the future,” James says. “Had it not been caught though, who knows what would have happened.”
Colon cancer that is caught early (Stages 0 – 1) usually requires surgery to remove cancerous polyps, but no other treatment is necessary. If colon cancer is not caught early and has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, chemotherapy and radiation therapy is recommended, in addition to other targeted therapies. The 5-year survival rate for someone with Stage 1 colon cancer is better than 90 percent. For someone with Stage 4 colon cancer, the 5-year survival rate is around 11 percent.
James says that although he’s not looking forward to more colonoscopies, he knows that at West Suburban, the procedure will go smoothly and be relatively painless.
“The appointment process is very easy, and the entire staff goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable,” he says. “The only hard part was the preparation the night before. Anyone who’s ever had a colonoscopy will know what I’m talking about.”