Stopping in at a community health screening event at Avera St. Anthony’s Hospital was lifesaving for Pat Fritz of O’Neill, Neb., when a routine hemoglobin count signaled that she might have colon cancer.
Pat’s low count of 7 g/dl, compared to a normal range of 12 to 15.5, indicated that she had loss of blood somewhere inside her body.
“I knew I didn’t feel good and had no energy,” Pat remembers. “I went to the hospital and they gave me two units of blood and iron.”
Her doctor began tests to find where the loss of blood was. After the very first test, a colonoscopy, she was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.
Pat had just had a screening colonoscopy a few years earlier. “It just wasn’t there then,” she said.
Her cancer was treated with surgery under the care of David Strand, MD, and chemotherapy under the care of medical oncologist, Mark Huber, MD.
“I was so scared, but everyone was so good to me from the volunteers to the doctors,” Pat said.
Diagnosed in 2011, Pat is now nearing five years of being cancer-free. She credits her Sioux Falls doctors for great care, plus Mary Jo Doolittle, laboratory director at Avera St. Anthony’s, who flagged the abnormal test results and recommended that Pat go in right away for follow-up care.
“We offer a range of screenings and they are good insurance for knowing your current state of health,” Doolittle said. “In cases like Pat’s, these screenings can save a life. Too many people think they’d rather not know, but if you don’t get screened, there is no way for a doctor to provide care and perhaps stop something in time. Every year, we pick up something that a patient wasn’t aware of.”
Pat advises people to not only get colonoscopy screenings as recommended, but also routine health screenings. She also points out that it’s important to listen to your body, and seek medical care if you’re not feeling like yourself. “You can’t afford not to do it. Women might want to go out and buy a new purse or clothes, and guys might want to get a new truck. But nothing is as valuable as good health,” Pat said.
“My grandmother had terminal cancer in the era when just hearing the word was enough to know it was a death sentence,” said Pat. “But I was different, because I made the time to go to that event, and because I had great care afterward. Now I have big plans for the future.”