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A Late-in-Life Diagnosis Leads to Advocacy: Naomi's Colon Cancer Journey

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At 77, Naomi Leszczywski passes her days guarding her local elementary school’s crosswalk, practicing yoga and spending time with her family. She has led a healthy life, focusing on eating well and exercising, and raising four children to do the same. So naturally, Naomi, with historically clean medical records and no family history of cancer, was shocked to learn she had stage II colon cancer at 77 years old.

“I tried to be healthy and take care of myself,” says Naomi. “The only health issue I had was anemia.”

Prior to her diagnosis, Naomi hadn’t recognized any symptoms that would indicate colon cancer. A colonoscopy was only recommended by her hematologist when her anemia failed to improve. The physician, concerned about her depleting iron levels, referred her to Dr. Alan Mushnick at The Endo Center at Voorhees in New Jersey as a precautionary measure.

“I had the colonoscopy and was shocked when they told me they saw something,” says Naomi. “Colon cancer doesn’t run in my family. I was always worried about heart disease, not colon cancer.”

Despite her lack of family history and healthy lifestyle, Naomi’s colonoscopy and abdominal MRI revealed a large cluster of cancer cells in her colon. Dr. Mushnick recommended surgery, to which Naomi was reluctant. Although she knew it was the appropriate procedure, she was nervous about undergoing an operation at her age. Her children were nervous too. But Dr. Mushnick and her surgeons at Virtua Hospital provided the reassurance and comfort Naomi and her family needed to confidently move forward with the prescribed procedure.

“Dr. Mushnick was so great and the surgeon confronted my fears and helped me through,” says Naomi. “You can’t be overwhelmed. You just take it one step at a time.”

Naomi’s surgery was effective in removing her cancer. She was fortunate to avoid chemotherapy treatments and says she feels better after the surgery than she had during the months leading up to her diagnosis. The tenor of her voice raises a bit when she talks about getting back to the things she loves – guarding the crosswalk, and gentle yoga.

“I’m doing everything normally again,” says Naomi. “I really love my crossing guard post, and it was great to come back to that. I walk every day and am just a little more cautious during my yoga poses.”

Naomi is grateful to her physicians for recommending a colonoscopy. As with most colon cancer patients, the simple diagnostic procedure saved her life. She is now working within her community to raise awareness about colon cancer prevention. She hopes to encourage everyone to be proactive about their health: eat well, exercise and, when necessary, get a colonoscopy as it is the most effective procedure for disease diagnosis and prevention. 

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posted on June 12, 2017 in news