Healthy You - Every Day

A Patient’s Determination to Beat Colon Cancer

Kristen Ervolina wants you to know when to get screened and when to seek treatment

When Kristen Ervolina first noticed the symptoms, she wasn’t too worried. “I thought maybe I had a mild case of hemorrhoids, possibly related to having my four children,” she says.

But when the symptoms persisted, she went to see a doctor and got a colonoscopy. The procedure confirmed that she had a cancerous growth in the lower part of her colon.

That was three and a half years ago. Today, after surgery to remove the tumor and a course of chemotherapy, testing shows that there is no cancer in her body, and she is hoping and praying it remains that way.

“Maintaining a positive attitude can help reduce stress, enhance resilience and improve overall well-being during the chemotherapy process.” - Maged Khalil, MD

Ervolina credits her Lehigh Valley Health Network doctors and the team at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute for her second chance at life. “If it weren’t for them, and for the incredible support of my family, I would not be where I am today,” she says. “I am eternally grateful.”

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Ervolina’s story is a good reminder to get screened and to seek treatment promptly if you have concerning symptoms.

How to help prevent colon cancer

Here is what the experts say: Talk to your doctor about a colonoscopy at age 45, and even sooner if you have a family history of colon cancer or any symptoms like rectal bleeding or changes in bowel habits. Colonoscopy is painless, safe and covered by most insurance plans. And it could save your life.

The gastroenterologist who did Ervolina’s colonoscopy referred her to Mikhail Rakhmanine, MD, a colon-rectal surgeon. “He told me,” Ervolina says, “‘I am putting you in the best hands in the Lehigh Valley.’”

Ervolina saw Dr. Rakhmanine in his office, and within days she was on the operating table. At the controls of a Da Vinci surgical robot, Dr. Rakhmanine made several small incisions and removed her tumor.

Robotic surgery is minimally invasive and has key advantages over traditional surgery, which requires a much larger incision, Dr. Rakhmanine says. These benefits include a faster recovery time and less bleeding during surgery. “She did very well during the surgery and recovered very well,” Dr. Rakhmanine says.

Following her surgery, Ervolina needed six months of chemotherapy overseen by hematologist and medical oncologist Maged Khalil, MD. “She had high-risk stage 3 colon cancer involving multiple lymph nodes,” Dr. Khalil says.

A difficult journey

Ervolina, 50, of Breinigsville, says her 12 chemotherapy treatments sapped her strength and made her feel sick. Each treatment started in the clinic and continued at home for 48 hours with a chemotherapy infusion pump.

It was a difficult journey, but she is philosophical about it. “That chemotherapy was my insurance policy,” Ervolina says. “It was killing the cancer cells, so in a way I am grateful for every day I suffered.”

Dr. Khalil says Ervolina’s determination and grit helped her greatly. “She was emotionally strong and resilient,” he says. “Maintaining a positive attitude can help reduce stress, enhance resilience and improve overall well-being during the chemotherapy process.”

Dr. Khalil also credits Ervolina’s healthy diet and physical activity level, her  open communication with her health care team, and her active participation in her treatment plan. “That led to a more collaborative and effective health care experience for her,” he says.

Ervolina sums it up ­­­­– with her characteristic directness ­­­­– somewhat more succinctly: “It’s all about having a great supporting cast,” she says. “I will be forever grateful to all of the people of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. And Dr. Khalil and Dr. Rakhmanine? They are my two favorite people on the planet.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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