Vera Owens' Story

Colon Cancer Didn't Break my Stride

The Diagnosis

Avid runner Vera Owens always has lived a healthy lifestyle. At 68, she exercises every day, maintains a healthy weight and does not eat junk food. But in June 2009, she experienced the health scare of a lifetime.

Vera, whose mother died of colon cancer at the age of 73, must undergo a colonoscopy every five years. Experts recommend a colonoscopy once every 10 years after the age of 50, but because of Vera's family history, she gets tested more often.

As soon as her gastroenterologist, Nick Sharma, M.D., came out with the results, Vera knew something was wrong. "He said he removed some polyps, which didn't surprise me," Vera says. "But then he said there was a tumor on my colon, and preliminary tests showed it was cancerous.

"I felt so ashamed," she admits. "I felt like there was something I could have done to prevent the cancer."

The Treatment

Dr. Sharma referred Vera to Janette Gaw, M.D., colorectal surgeon, who encouraged Vera to have a laparoscopic partial colectomy to surgically remove the tumor within one week. Dr. Gaw told Vera to be prepared for a seven-day hospital stay, but Vera was discharged after only two-and-a-half days.

"Because Vera was in such great health—other than the tumor—and her surgery was done with a camera through a small incision, her recovery time was much shorter than most patients," Dr. Gaw explains.

Dr. Gaw stresses the importance of getting screened. "Colorectal cancer is treatable, but it is also preventable," she says. "Yet despite this, only half of adults older than 50 have been screened."

Going The Distance

Less than three months after her surgery, Vera began running again. In October 2009, a follow-up colonoscopy revealed no polyps and no cancer. In December, she successfully completed her first half marathon since her cancer diagnosis. She ran 13.1 miles in two hours and seven minutes.

Vera strives to educate not only her family and friends about the importance of colorectal cancer screening, but also the community. She and Dr. Gaw co-chair the Colon Cancer Coalition's Fort Myers "Get Your Rear in Gear" 5K run/two-mile walk. Funds raised facilitate public education, screening and treatment of colorectal cancer in Southwest Florida.