Linda Horswill: Catch cancer before it catches you

Linda Horswill

Linda Horswill has become an advocate after cancer was discovered during her first colonoscopy in her late 60s.

Linda Horswill of Cashton, Wis., has a cautionary tale: Talk to your Gundersen Health System physician about getting a colonoscopy at age 50. Linda didn't, and it almost cost her dearly.

Linda, 68, didn't have her first colonoscopy until she was 67. "I'd been putting it off," says Linda. "I was going to retire, and I wanted to get that out of the way (while insurance would pay for it)."

Gundersen strongly urges all people to have a colonoscopy at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter, for the purpose of detecting and removing colon polyps before they become cancerous.

Rachel Wilson, MD

There were no symptoms when Gundersen Viroqua Clinic general surgeon Rachel Wilson, MD, performed Linda's colonoscopy in the fall of 2015.

"She'd never had any trouble, and there was no family history," explains Dr. Wilson. But the scope showed numerous polyps and a large, suspicious mass.

"After the procedure I told her that I didn't yet know what it was, but that it didn't look very good," says Dr. Wilson, who sent samples to the lab that confirmed her suspicions of cancer. "Linda is a very easy-going lady and said, 'Alright, let's take care of it.'"

Dr. Wilson removed a portion of Linda's intestine including the tumor, polyps and dozens of lymph nodes at Vernon Memorial Hospital in Viroqua. She reattached the colon during the same surgery so Linda did not require a colostomy bag.

Linda did, however, need 12 weeks of chemotherapy over six months under the care of Agnes Smaradottir, MD, a Gundersen medical oncologist.

Dr. Wilson and fellow Gundersen general surgeon Alexander Wade, MD, understand people shy from the idea of a colonoscopy.

"A colonoscopy can give you a lot of peace of mind for the next 10 years," says Dr. Wilson. "Nobody likes having the exam but it can prevent a lot worse things down the road.

We have you medicated so you don't feel much and don't remember much."Because she did finally get a colonoscopy, Linda can look forward to more time in her kayak, bicycling, bird watching, travel and gardening. Because of her experience, she tells anyone who'll listen about her close call.

"I talk to my family and anyone I run across," Linda says. "Don't put it off! Get it in your early 50s because it's no big deal and it could save your life!"

Gundersen physicians perform colonoscopy exams in Viroqua, Prairie du Chien and Boscobel so you don't need to travel far from home. Ask your family physician to help you schedule one today.