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Published on February 06, 2020

Cindy Field

Cindy Field's doctor recommended a routine screening. It found cancer.

'I had absolutely no symptoms'

Cindy Field almost threw away the test that saved her life.

In fall 2018, nurse practitioner Susan Hellerude Borchardt at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital in Hillsboro recommended a colonoscopy during Cindy's annual physical. An identical procedure a decade earlier revealed no concerns.

"I told her, 'Nope. That's not happening. I'm 74 with no family history and no symptoms,'" she says.

Cindy left her appointment with a fecal immunochemical test, an at-home kit that detects colon cancer.

It sat in her closet for five months. Noticing the kit's approaching expiration date, Cindy took the test in March. "I took it to clinic and got a call," she says. "There was blood that, with my naked eye, I did not see."

She underwent a colonoscopy and computerized tomography (CT) scan at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital, a 10-minute drive from her home in Hillsboro.

"I knew I had cancer from the minute the test came back showing blood," Cindy remembers.

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in the U.S. Early detection is key to survival.

"I considered throwing the test kit away," Cindy says. "I had absolutely no symptoms."

On June 12, Cindy underwent robotic-assisted surgery at Gundersen's La Crosse Hospital with Stephen Shapiro, MD, to remove adenocarcinoma, the most common form of colon cancer.

"The robotic platform allows me to perform delicate surgical maneuvers with three-dimensional vision and to reconnect intestines after cancer is removed without the need of a larger incision," Dr. Shapiro says. "Gundersen has the most advanced surgical robot in La Crosse, and we have performed hundreds of minimally invasive colon operations over the past 15 years."

Cindy left the Hospital two days later without pain— and without cancer.

"There was no radiation and no chemotherapy," she says. "That was wonderful because I had already told my two daughters that, at my age, I was not doing extensive chemotherapy."

She later returned to her job at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital and Clinic in Hillsboro, where she has worked in Environmental Services for 19 years. It feels like home, she says, and a place where she's able to work alongside those who helped save her life.

"I have all the confidence in the providers at St. Joseph's," she says.

Now in remission, Cindy warns others to follow screening recommendations and to discuss any concerns with a doctor. She'll undergo another colonoscopy next year to make sure the cancer didn't return and every three years after.

"I'm going to stick to that," she said. "If I didn't do the at-home test, I'd probably be very sick. It's the simplest thing you can do to save your life. I couldn't be more blessed. I feel great. I really do."

Screening recommendations

For those at average risk for colon cancer, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years beginning at age 50. Those with certain risk factors—such as family or personal history—may need a colonoscopy earlier or more frequently.

Any adult, regardless of age, should talk to a doctor if blood appears in stool, Dr. Shapiro recommends.

"The goal of following the recommendations for screening is to identify small polyps and remove them before they grow into a cancerous problem," he says. "For those patients, like Cindy, where cancer is identified, it can be found earlier, and the opportunity for cure is much greater."

To schedule a colonoscopy, talk to your primary care provider. Learn more about colon cancer screenings and treatment.

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