March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in both women and men combined. A former Shawnee Mission Medical Center (SMMC) patient knows far too well the effects this disease has on a person, but now after defeating cancer, she is dedicated to living her life to the fullest and educating those who may be at risk.
As a 20-year-old student, Ashley Havlena was enjoying her college experience at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She was excited to start her career as a nurse and enjoyed being a member of her sorority and attending Nebraska football games. Havlena would have never imagined that only four years later, she would be diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer.
Spring of 2008 was the first time Havlena noticed blood in her stool. As a nursing student, she thought that this could be a result of a number of minor things, but knew that she should get it checked out.
“I was diagnosed with anal fissures, which is caused by not completely chewing food. Relieved by the diagnosis, I was hopeful that the blood in my stool would start to go away,” said Havlena.
But that was not the case.
Years went by and diagnoses continued. Havlena’s symptoms worsened and her fear began to rise. She knew this wasn’t normal, especially for a woman in her early 20s. Havlena was determined to find the answers she needed.
Havlena and her mother, who is also a nurse, decided it would be best to visit Havlena’s childhood doctor. After being examined, Havlena was told she needed a colonoscopy.
“I was so embarrassed. I was 24-years-old and having my first colonoscopy. I knew this wasn’t normal, but I was still hopeful that I was OK,” said Havlena.
On Monday, October 10, 2011, Havlena was getting ready to work the night shift on the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Five minutes before Havlena needed to leave, she received a call that would change her life forever. Havlena was told she had cancer.
“As soon as he said the word cancer, I started crying. What were the treatment options? What if the treatment did not work? I knew I needed a plan of attack,” she said.
The same month Havlena was diagnosed, she began treatments at SMMC. During her battle, Havlena spent a total of 17 days in the Oncology Department.
“Though I was going through something very hard, the staff at Shawnee Mission Medical Center made it easier. I remember the nurse manager, Margie Jecker, constantly checking on me to make sure I was always comfortable.”
In January 2013, Havlena learned that she was cancer free. She is thankful to be healthy again and looks back on this experience as one where she learned more about herself and also about being more aware of her health.
“I appreciate life so much more now. I take nothing for granted and enjoy the small things like hanging out with my family and friends and having a career that I love. This experience has also taught me the importance of listening to my body and taking health issues seriously,” said Havlena.
When asked what she would tell people who think they are at risk of colorectal cancer, Havlena said, “Colorectal cancer is silent. It does not discriminate based on age or gender. Although colonoscopies are recommended for those 50 and older, get a colonoscopy if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, bowel changes or bleeding. Colorectal cancer can be preventable, treatable and beatable.”
For more information about colorectal cancer, call the ASK-A-NURSE Resource Center at 913-676-7777.
Source: Colon Cancer Alliance