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Colon Cancer Survivor Anita Yates Received Life-Saving Nudge

Anita YatesAnita Yates is normally scrupulous about scheduling her annual physical exams. Somehow, the year 2014 got by her, though, so she went a year and a half without seeing her primary care physician. When Yates did get in the doctor’s office in June 2015, she received a reminder to have the colonoscopy she should have had when she was 50.  

That nudge saved her life.  

A September 2015 colonoscopy revealed Yates had stage II colorectal cancer, a fact confirmed with a subsequent CT scan. Dr. Kelly Tyler, a colorectal surgeon at Baystate Medical Center, removed the section of colon that held the cancerous mass and reconnected the healthy colon using a common, robot-assisted procedure that offers smaller incisions and a speedier recovery than traditional surgery.  

Tyler says Yates is a perfect illustration that early detection saves lives. And March is a perfect time to talk about Yates’ diagnosis and recovery because March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.  

Colorectal Cancer by the Numbers

The American Cancer Society warns that colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined. In 2016, it’s expected there will be 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer. 

Screening is especially important for African American men and women as colorectal cancer incidence is 23% higher within that population; mortality rates are 50% higher than those of whites.  

“It’s important to get the word out that colon cancer is very common. People put off screening, and that can have damaging results,” Tyler says. “It’s an opportunity, having a colonoscopy.”  

Certainly, it was an opportunity for a longer lifetime for Yates, who is African American and so at greater risk.  

‘I continued to believe’

“It was a shock at first because I consider myself pretty much a healthy person,” Yates says of her diagnosis. “I’ve never been hospitalized. I’ve never had any kind of surgery.”  

After the surgery, Yates took roughly six weeks off from her job as an administrative assistant. She remembers feeling tired and sore around the incision, but otherwise not in pain. In her recovery, she turned for support to her husband, Carl; her mother, Theresa; siblings Rafae, Robert, Veleka and Katishia; the Revival Time Evangelistic Center church family in Springfield; its pastor and first lady Steven R. and Denise Williams Sr.  

“There were some days when I felt a little down, and I was questioning, ‘Why is this happening now in my life,’” Yates says. “I continued to believe and trust in God and be positive.  

“I came to realize that it wasn’t so much that I needed to learn something. It was more so other people could see the process that I was going through and the outcome,” she adds, noting that her brother and three sisters have since been screened and told they are in good health.

“I’m like a testimony for someone else to know that if I can go through it, they can go through it too.”  

Excellent, Compassionate Care

Yates is currently being treated at Baystate's D’Amour Center for Cancer Care, receiving oral chemotherapy treatment as a precaution to guard against the spread of the disease to her liver. These treatments also make Yates weary, and she has tenderness in her feet and hands.  

She is grateful to the Baystate Regional Cancer Program for its excellent care and to staff for the depth of their compassion. “My husband and I agree that throughout this whole process, the doctors, the nurses, and the staff—everybody—has been really great. I am totally glad that I followed through.”