Kicking colon cancer takes a team and navigation help

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Retired chef, 87-year-old Tim Sue was first diagnosed with hemorrhoids after noticing unusual bleeding. But he’d also suffered unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, and sleeplessness – symptoms that signaled something more serious.

The Porterville resident was referred to Dr. David Disbrow, who recommended CT and MRI scans at the Community Cancer Institute. The scans showed that Sue had stage 2 colon cancer. Based on Tim’s scans, Dr. Disbrow, a colon and rectal surgeon, came up with a treatment plan that included radiation to first shrink the tumor, surgery to remove it and finally chemotherapy. It also included seeing a number of different specialists.

Navigating a cancer diagnosis 

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing and patients can face many challenges along the way, including figuring out how to navigate between different kinds of doctors and treatments.

“You have oncology, which provides chemotherapy, radiation oncology which provides radiation, and surgery are the three main modalities of treatment,” explained Dr. Disbrow. “Ostomy, genetic counselors, nurse navigators, whole oncology teams come together to give the best care for these patients.”

The multidisciplinary care team at the Community Cancer Institute provides a holistic approach for patients and their families, working together to address as many of the patient’s needs as possible. Key to that holistic approach are nurse navigators who help patients like Tim understand all the services available to them, and to also speed up treatment for the best possible outcome.

Community Cancer Institute’s multidisciplinary care team includes:

  • Surgeons

  • Oncologists, who prescribe the right combination of chemotherapy for a specific kind of cancer or tumor

  • Radiologists, who use various scanning techniques to help diagnose cancers and radiation to shrink tumors

  • Nutritionists/dieticians who encourage good nutrition and help patients weather nausea that’s often a treatment side effect

  • Case managers/social workers who arrange help for things like transportation and home healthcare

  • Financial counselors who explain insurance concerns

  • Support groups for social and emotional support


Care may also include speech therapy, genetic testing and counseling, palliative medicine and survivorship care planning. The Cancer Institute is designed to be a “one-stop-shop” for patients during one of their most difficult health challenges.

Tim also worked with Oncology Nurse Navigator, Lorena Garcia, to coordinate all his different treatments and services. She explained his treatment plan, and she prepared him for any symptoms he might experience during chemotherapy. Garcia also served as a support for Tim and his family.

Catching colon/rectal cancer early is key 

Tim’s cancer treatment gave him more time to spend with his family. When caught early before it has spread to other parts of the body, colon cancer has high survival rates. But many people ignore the telltale signs of colon cancer that Tim had or are embarrassed to talk about symptoms with their doctor.

Colon/rectal cancer symptoms

If you see unexpected changes in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool take it as a warning sign, and let your doctor know. 

Other symptoms to be on alert for include:

  • Rectal bleeding, dark stools or blood in your stool

  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely

  • Cramping or abdominal pain

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • Unintended weight loss

African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates and are more likely to develop colorectal cancer at a younger age. African Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die. But those with a family history or colorectal cancer or those who have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are also at greater risk.

Decrease your risk for colon cancer

Life style factors can also increase your risk. To decrease your risk for colon cancer:

  • Get regular exercise.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetable and increase your fiber intake.

  • Eliminate high fat foods and processed meats in your diet.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.

Detecting colorectal cancer early is the key. The American Cancer Society recommends regular colorectal cancer screening for people at average risk starting at age 45. People with a family history of colon cancer should get screened sooner. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any symptoms that worry you.