Avid Runner, 44, Schedules Colonoscopy that Catches Cancer

Elizabeth Brandewie, MD stands aside a picture of UH's giant inflatable colonOn the same day last March, Elizabeth Brandewie, MD, saw the giant inflatable colon on display at University Hospitals St. John Medical Center for Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and also read a New York Times article about the increasing rate of colon cancer in people in their 30s and 40s.

The article featured a runner, who had noticed a very small amount of blood in her stool – just like Dr. Brandewie had recently experienced. An intense runner herself, logging six to 10 miles six days per week, the 44-year-old OB/GYN decided she could not ignore the signs.

Even though she was six years shy of the recommended age for her first colonoscopy, with no family history, Dr. Brandewie scheduled this important outpatient test that examines the lining of the colon. She was awake and pain-free in the endoscopy room when she saw her tumor on the screen. Gastroenterologist Sapna Thomas, MD, confirmed that her colleague had Stage 3 colon cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, lifestyle factors that contribute to increased risk of colon cancer include lack of regular physical activity, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and a high-fat diet low in fiber, fruits and vegetables. Dr. Brandewie doesn’t drink or smoke and prepares most of her own meals in a largely meatless diet.

“What hits home to me the most is that people need to treat their bodies well, get regular exercise, eat healthy,” said Dr. Brandewie. “And yet, even with very good health, you shouldn’t ignore any symptoms. Cancer can happen to anyone.”

Resolute and focused, Dr. Brandewie underwent surgery and four months of chemotherapy at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center’s Westlake location. She continued to work throughout her treatment, appreciative for an accommodating UH Seidman staff.

Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer, affecting women and men in approximately even numbers. Yet it’s one of the most preventable cancers due to the available options for screening. Dr. Brandewie had no family history of colon cancer that would have triggered a colonoscopy before age 50. Her two teenagers will now be advised to have their first colonoscopy at 34 – 10 years earlier than her age at diagnosis, as recommended by the American Cancer Society for first-degree relatives of those with colon cancer.

She admits that she knows many physicians who have pursued getting a colonoscopy since her unexpected diagnosis. And she has discovered a silver lining of her own.

“Even though no one wants to get cancer, I have to say my life is so much better since then,” Dr. Brandewie said. “I appreciate every day. I value my personal relationships. And I don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Most importantly, she adds: “Don’t be afraid. Get screened.”