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Don't skip your colonoscopy

March 27, 2015

Michael Baines of Shelburne was just 48 years old when his primary care physician recommended he undergo a colonoscopy.

“I was having a routine physical - my doctor would normally request little stool samples,” he said. “One of them turned up some blood and he said ‘well you are going to go in for a colonoscopy.’”

The scan revealed a benign polyp, and it was immediately removed during the colonoscopy.

“When you have a colonoscopy early, if you have polyps, which are small, they might be the size of my fingernail, they can get snipped out during the procedure,” Baystate Medical Center colorectal surgeon Dr. Kelly Tyler said.

dangerous delay

Three years later, Baines returned for a follow up visit, and a second colonoscopy showed a completely healthy colon. He was relieved, and hoped his medical scare was behind him. The father of two was supposed to return five years later for his third colonoscopy, but like many others, got caught up with life’s hectic schedules. A project manager for the Franklin & Hampshire Regional Employment Board, Baines wound up delaying his colonoscopy just one extra year.

“I go in and low and behold, guess what? I have a 30 cm (cancer mass), so two days later, which is two days before Christmas, I find out I have colon cancer,” Baines said. “It was hard, it was tough news to get, certainly changed the nature of Christmas for me for that season.”

faster recovery time

Dr. Tyler told him it was imperative that the potentially life-threatening cancer be removed as soon as possible. Just one month after the diagnosis, Dr. Tyler successfully removed 100% of Baines’ cancer by using a minimally invasive robotic procedure. Rather than entering his body through a large abdominal incision, Dr. Tyler used a few small incisions to gain access to the cancer. She then used specialized instruments that bend and rotate with more precision than the human wrist to remove the dangerous cells.

“What does that mean for people? Faster recovery,” Dr. Tyler said. “Michael was asking if he could go back to work a few days into his hospital stay. He is a little bit on the extreme, but this is what people are doing more and more. I’m really inspired to see that these minimally invasive techniques really improve that time period overall for people as they try to return to their everyday lives, because work and enjoyment are obviously important to people.”

“I had surgery just a little bit more of a month after I was diagnosed, and it’s been about seven or eight weeks now and I am fine. I am back to work, and have been working full time for three weeks. I feel great,” Baines said. “I didn’t know I had it before I was diagnosed, and other than the little scars on my belly, I wouldn’t know that I had it now.”

how colonoscopies work

Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer, and the second deadliest cancer. Colonoscopies are recommended beginning at age 50. Dr. Tyler says that the worst part of the process is the bowel cleansing that is necessary before a colonoscopy, so that doctors can get a clear look at your colon.

When you undergo your colonoscopy, patients are given medication to relax and often fall asleep, not waking up until the procedure is over. Baystate nurses are by your side to make sure you are comfortable during the process.

Baines says after his experience, he knows one thing:

“The message is get your colonoscopy. I don’t care about the purge before, which is what most people are uncomfortable with. I have to drink a gallon. So what? I mean that compared to potential death. I don’t want to be one of them, and you shouldn’t be either. Colonoscopy is such a minor inconvenience compared to what it can do to your life.”