MIAMI — For two years, Janice Sanderson ignored the pain in her left side and tried to work despite a swollen stomach. The cleaning lady had always found ways to persevere in times of turmoil.
“I didn’t have health insurance and I didn’t want to find out that something was wrong,” Sanderson said.
But in 2004 the pain became too much, forcing her to go to the hospital. Sanderson received the sobering news that she had stage three colon cancer.
“I couldn’t believe it! I was only 45,” she said. “People kept telling me, don’t worry, you know usually it happens after 50.”
Sanderson went through surgery and doctors removed parts of her colon along with her uterus.
She might be considered one of the lucky ones. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every year more than 50,000 people die from it.
Perhaps Sanderson’s cancer could have been caught earlier if she had participated in the Colorectal Cancer Screening Program at Community Health of South Florida Inc. (CHI). It is part of a partnership with the Department of Health.
“It’s a free visit and a free test for them,” said Elizabeth Philippe, of CHI. “If the F.I.T. test is positive they can get the colonoscopy done for free too.”
Philippe said money is one of the most common reasons people don’t get screened for colon cancer. However CHI’s program offers a free FIT test to low-income and uninsured patients. It’s a new easy and accurate test that can be done at home. The patient can then mail it in or bring the sample back to the lab.
Regular screening should start at age 50. But those with a family history of colon cancer may need to test earlier.
If the F.I.T test is abnormal a traditional colonoscopy is necessary.
“Before it used to be painful, but now it’s not,” said Philippe “It has evolved so much. They sedate you and you don’t feel anything.”
Detecting colorectal cancer before it spreads to the bowel can increase the chances of surviving for at least five years after a diagnosis by 90 percent.
That is why CHI outreach workers are knocking on doors in the community trying to encouragepatients to take this life-saving test.
“Get yourself checked early,” said Sanderson. “I waited for the last moment. I took the pain and the swelling I should have gone to the doctor right away.”