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March 2011 Issue

Mary Williams-Johnson
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Patient's Life Saved by Colonoscopy, Urges Others to 'Make the Time'

By Amanda Harper
Published March 2011

It’s obvious when you meet Mary Williams-Johnson that she thrives on taking care of other people, whether it’s in her professional life as a surgical technologist or her personal life as a wife, mother, daughter and sister.

But it was her UC Health primary care doctor, Kellie Boyd, MD, who persuaded Williams-Johnson to make the time to care of herself by getting a colonoscopy in 2008. She had avoided getting a colonoscopy for two years. Life just kept getting in the way.

"I was working two jobs and serving as a caregiver for my 85-year-old mother—I was so exhausted I had to pull over to take a nap on the drive from my job in Fairfield to my home in Maineville. I just thought I was tired because of life stress and menopause coming on,” Williams-Johnson recalls.

During a physical exam required by work, Boyd encouraged her to get a colonoscopy.

"Dr. Boyd was adamant,” says Williams-Johnson, now 56 and manages the anesthesia techs, HUCs and PCSAs in the operating room at UC Health University Hospital.
She scheduled a colonoscopy for September, but her mother became ill after cataract surgery and Williams-Johnson had to cancel the appointment. Once again, she put off her own health needs to care for others.

In November 2008, she finally had a colonoscopy—two years after the initial referral. The test revealed a polyp the size of a half-dollar. The doctor recommended surgery.

"It was a given who would do my surgery. I had worked with Dr. Janice Rafferty [colorectal surgeon] for years,” recalls Williams-Johnson. "Dr. Rafferty sketched what she was going to do in the operation, and it still hangs on my refrigerator. Some people have kids’ drawings on their fridge. I have a sketch of my ileocecal resection.”

On Dec.19, 2008, she had a laparoscopic ileocecal resection, where a portion of the intestine is removed and the two healthy ends are reattached. The day after Christmas at 11 a.m., Rafferty called her to report it was stage 1 colon cancer.

"I remember it very clearly: She told me that I didn’t need chemo or radiation, but I’d have to stick with her for a while,” Williams-Johnson says. "All I could say in response was, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ And she said, ‘No—you saved your life by getting that colonoscopy.’”

By taking care of herself that one day, she is able to continue doing what she loves most: taking care of her family and patients. Williams-Johnson is looking forward to seeing her son, Jason, inducted into the Youngstown Ursuline High School Hall of Fame this May and celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary with her husband, Les, the same month.

"I give all the credit to God for guiding my life. Instead of taking that day off to do something else or take care of someone else, take a day off to go see a doctor. We can’t continue to neglect ourselves while caring for others. Instead of a date night, take a date day and go to the doctor,” she says.

Drugs Investigated for Prevention of Colorectal Cancer

UC Cancer Institute oncologists are testing whether a widely used cholesterol-reducing drug can help prevent the recurrence of colorectal cancer in patients who have been surgically treated for the disease previously.

This seven-year trial, sponsored by the National Surgical and Adjuvant Bowel and Breast Project (NSABP) will assess whether taking statins—a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that target enzymes in the liver—can prevent the formation of polyps and, therefore, prevent colorectal cancer recurrence in people with previous colorectal cancers that have been removed surgically.

"Statins help regulate enzymes in the body that govern inflammation, and preliminary studies suggest they may also be helpful in the reduction of colorectal and bowel cancer,” explains Elizabeth Shaughnessy, MD, PhD, an associate professor at the UC College of Medicine and surgical oncologist with UC Health.

Shaughnessy serves as principal investigator for all NSABP research protocols conducted at UC.

Study participants will be randomized into one of two groups: The first group will receive a daily placebo (non-medicated pill); the second will take a statin medication called rosuvastatin (marketed as Crestor) for five years.

The drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to slow the production of cholesterol—a fatty substance in the blood linked to heart disease—in the body.

For more information on clinical trial enrollment, call the UC Cancer Institute clinical trials office at (513) 584-7698.

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