Jennifer Newland was working in bed on her laptop one February evening in 2015 when she felt an “odd sensation” like she was about to have an explosive bowel movement.
“I rushed to the bathroom and ended up filling the toilet several times with black digested blood,” she says.
Although bleeding subsided and Newland felt fine, her mother, who is a nurse, urged her to go to the emergency room at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest the next day. After a thorough exam, doctors suspected she had diverticulitis (infection within small pouches of the colon) and suggested she schedule a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis.
A few days later as she woke from a colonoscopy, doctors informed her she had colon cancer. Further tests revealed she had stage 4 colon cancer since it had metastasized to her liver.
“I’m a single mother, and my daughter was only 16 at the time,” says Newland, then 43. “It was obviously quite a shock.”
Facing stage 4 colon cancer head on
Newland, who is involved with Sistah Chat Radio (a show that empowers women), decided to empower herself. “My motto throughout my treatment became ‘I CAN with CANcer,’” she says.“I CAN go to work, I CAN live life, I CAN be normal – I CAN do anything I want with CANcer.”
Newland first underwent surgery to remove cancerous growths in her colon and her liver. Working as part of a team, colon-rectal surgeon John Park, MD, with Colon-Rectal Surgery Associates, PC, removed the primary tumor from her colon and affected lymph nodes. Next, surgical oncologist Jeffrey Brodsky, MD, with LVPG Surgical Oncology, then removed two metastatic lesions from her liver.
“Not all stage 4 colon cancer patients are fit enough to undergo simultaneous surgeries,” says Brodsky, “but it’s more convenient and less stressful when we’re able to do everything in one operation, and patients often have better outcomes.”
Newland came down with double pneumonia after surgery and was hospitalized for two weeks. Once she was discharged she met with oncologist Ranju Gupta, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology, who started her on chemotherapy right away.
“Every two weeks for six months, Jennifer received an intravenous chemotherapy regimen called FOLFOX, a combination of three drugs that shrink tumors,” Gupta says.
Newland, who lives in Roseto, was particularly pleased that she could receive treatments at LVPG Hematology Oncology at the Health Center at Bangor, just minutes from her home. Despite some side effects, including nausea, fatigue and dry mouth, she made an effort to live as normally and fully as possible. She continued campaigning for political candidates, spent extra time with family and friends, enjoyed nature and even went zip-lining during her chemo treatments.
“This experience taught me you can still give to your community and help people, but it’s OK to give to yourself and take time to appreciate everything around you,” she says.
Stage 4 colon CANcer free
Three years later Newland continues to be in remission. “Stage 4 colon cancer isn’t always terminal,” Gupta says. “A proportion of patients, especially those with limited liver disease, do very well and can be potentially cured.”
Newland credits her doctors for using a “whole-person” approach in her care. When she gained significant weight during treatment, her medical team suggested she try physical therapy at Rehabilitation Services–Bangor to reduce possible lymphedema (swelling in the arms and legs from a buildup of lymph fluid). Last October, Newland took their advice again and underwent weight-loss surgery with bariatric surgeon Richard Boorse, MD, with LVPG General, Bariatric and Trauma Surgery. Since then she has dropped 123 pounds, down from 315.
“My doctors and staff at LVHN never treated me as just an organ,” Newland says. “They cared for me from top to bottom. I’m cancer-free, I’m healthy, and I’m living – all because they made me feel special and never, ever gave up on me. I truly believe I’m here because of their support and encouragement and the quality of care I received. I will never go anywhere else.”