Zest for life remains despite colorectal cancer diagnosis

Staff Reports • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:18 PM

NASHVILLE – Until the moment of Donna Allen’s November 2009 emergency room visit, the Hendersonville retiree considered herself to be “very healthy.”  

She enjoyed living life to its fullest potential.  However, she knew something was wrong when she suddenly developed severe stomach pains. Physicians initially diagnosed her with indigestion and acid reflux, but an ordered CT scan revealed a more serious, unexpected diagnosis. Allen had colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both genders in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The organization also estimates 96,830 new cases of colon cancer and 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2014. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The goal for the month is to “tell the world that colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable,” according to the Colon Cancer Alliance.  

Following her diagnosis, Allen was referred to Tennessee Oncology. The practice treats more cancer patients than any other practice in Tennessee.  Its clinical trials program is one of the largest in the country.  Dr. Dianna Shipley recommended Allen join a research study involving an experimental drug. Infusions and chemotherapy were recommended, too.  She underwent a successful surgery in August 2012 to remove a portion of her liver where tumors remained.  Then, she received good news—her cancer was in remission.

“Yes, I had cancer, but it never altered me severely.  I continued to do the things I always did.  While I was tired more easily, I suffered few side effects from my treatments,” said Allen.

Unfortunately, remission never means cured, and sometimes recurrence happens. Allen discovered her colorectal cancer was recurring in February.  She returned to Shipley for treatment—oral chemotherapy and radiation—and hopes to beat the disease again.

“I am most impressed by patients like Donna who refuse to let the word ‘cancer’ interfere negatively with their lives.  Her passion for living life to its fullest potential coupled with her positive attitude make the fight against cancer less frightening and more optimistic—cancer never changed Donna, but it did make her stronger,” said Shipley.

There are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.  Screenings and treatment both play roles in the statistic.  Treatment has improved over the years meaning more lives saved.  

“I never contemplated dying early until I was diagnosed, and I am not a kid—but still, dying in my 60s was alarming and unthinkable.  Don’t think about screenings—just get screenings. If nothing is found, then at least you know you are cancer free. If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, treatments are saving lives just like they saved mine,” said Allen.  

Tennessee Oncology employs 80 physicians in 30 locations throughout Middle Tennessee, Chattanooga and northwest Georgia. 

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