It was a routine colonoscopy that found Donna Hanks’s (White Earth) colon cancer in 2015. She had always followed normal screening guidelines and was shocked to find out her diagnosis. Donna sat down with AICAF to open up about her story for the first time so that others can understand the importance of regular colon cancer screening.
Donna shares that she has always been very proactive about cancer screening, a practice that lead to early detection for her. She had her first colonoscopy 10 years ago, which had some polyps that were all removed. Her second one, five years ago, was also clear.
The third one, unfortunately, was cancerous. Donna went in for a routine colonoscopy in January 2015, where doctors found and removed several small polyps. One large polyp, however, couldn’t be removed during the procedure and was deemed cancerous by the CT scan that occurred later the same day.
When Donna heard the word cancer, she was devastated. The cancer diagnosis shocked her and made it difficult to ask questions or interact with her doctor, a common emotional response. “I was speechless,” she shares, “The surgeon sat there and told me what was going to happen. I didn’t have any questions. I couldn’t even think about that.”
When Donna shared her diagnosis with her family, they reacted similarly. She remembers her grandsons Charlie and Jeffrey asking if she was going to be okay. “I hope so,” she told them. Her family showed their support by accompanying her to the surgery.
Donna recollected, “it all happened so darn fast.” She was scheduled to have surgery by the end of the week, where they removed part of her colon and all of the cancer. She remained in the hospital for five days to recover. Now, she goes in for appointments to check for signs of cancer every six months. Her colonoscopy at the one-year mark did not find any polyps, so she only needs them every three years now. It’s been two years since she was diagnosed and she has three more until she’ll be deemed cancer-free. Donna acknowledges the emotional stress that accompanies a cancer diagnosis: “I think I will be on edge until I hit the five-year clearance.”
Donna remains diligent about cancer screening – not just for her, but for her family as well. She makes sure that her sisters get screened regularly. She also makes sure that her children know that they will need to get screened for colon cancer at age 40 since she had a colon cancer diagnosis. Donna cautions others to get screened as well, so that they can prevent colon cancer in their lives: “Get your colonoscopy. It doesn’t hurt. It’s a little uncomfortable, but doesn’t hurt.”
Thank you, Donna Hanks for sharing your story. Visit aicaf.org/category/colon-cancer-stories for more Colon Cancer Awareness Month Survivor Stories.