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Fergus Woman Pays it Forward by Encouraging Colon Cancer Screening

"I want people to know a colonoscopy is not embarrassing and it's not painful. It can save your life!"

If Kathy Wark of Fergus Falls could turn back time, she would've had her first colonoscopy years ago when her doctor suggested it.  "I just kept saying no, I'm fine.  I don't need that," says the 64-year-old. "I had this idea that a colonoscopy would be embarrassing and painful."

Then came symptoms, including worsening stomach problems, lower back pain and just the feeling that something wasn't right. In May 2014, Wark underwent a colonoscopy out of necessity. The test revealed a tumor. Later tests showed the cancer was slow-growing and had not yet reached her lymph nodes. Treatment that year included chemotherapy pills, radiation therapy and surgery.

"I'm so grateful my cancer was caught earlier rather than later, and I was able to get treatment," she says. "I'm pretty sure it could've been caught even earlier if I'd listened to my doctor."

Colonoscopy is key

One of the most common cancers, colorectal cancer is highly treatable when caught early. The key to early detection? Colonoscopy – the examination of the entire colon and rectum using a lighted instrument called a colonoscope. If polyps are seen, the surgeon can remove them so they don't have a chance to develop into cancer.

Dr. Julianne Gutzmer, Lake Region Healthcare surgeon, underscores the importance of colonoscopy. "This test has made a remarkable difference in the fight against colorectal cancer. Patients play a critical role," she says. "They need to be willing to get their colonoscopies. On a regular basis, they also need to pay attention to their bodies and tell their doctors if they notice symptoms, including rectal bleeding."

People with no symptoms and average risk should have their first colonoscopy at age 50. Colonoscopies may need to be done at an earlier age for those with certain medical conditions or a strong family history for colorectal cancer.  Your doctor can advise you.

Paying it forward

Today, Wark embraces life like never before, recognizing how quickly things can change.

An employee at Lake Region for 11 years, she works part-time on the cleaning crew at the Lake Region Healthcare Cancer Care & Research Center. Known for her kindness and positive personality, she readily greets patients, families and coworkers. On Valentine's Day, she even handed out cards.

"When I was going through my cancer treatment, I received excellent care. I also had wonderful support from my family, friends and other cancer patients," she says.  "Now I look for ways to make someone else's day better, even if it's just a corny joke or a smile."

She pays it forward one more way: "I want people to know a colonoscopy is not embarrassing and it's not painful. It can save your life!"

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