Tacoma police lieutenant Alan Roberts was a fit, active 47-year-old when he scheduled his colonoscopy in November 2013. Though he’d recently noticed some unusual digestive symptoms, including lower-abdominal pain and rectal bleeding, he wasn’t concerned about colon cancer. A few days earlier, he’d taken a painful softball hit to the gut while coaching a youth game, and figured the bleeding was related. He had no family history of colon cancer, and his one previous colonoscopy had come back clean.
This time, though, the news wasn’t positive. Immediately after the colonoscopy, Alan was informed that he had a large tumor almost completely blocking his intestines — so large, in fact, that they couldn’t finish the colonoscopy. Alan was also told that the tumor was likely cancer, and was referred to Virginia Mason Franciscan Health surgeon Shalini Kanneganti, MD. The following week, she performed surgery to remove the tumor and Alan’s lymph nodes.
Post-surgery, Alan was relieved to learn the cancer hadn’t spread beyond the colon. But his recovery took a new twist when he developed fistulas, or abnormal openings in the GI tract, after a routine surgery in 2014. His Virginia Mason Franciscan Health care team supported him through this rare, unexpected setback, which Alan attributes to his tendency to producing lots of scar tissue. A strict diet regimen and the care of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health home health nurses helped heal his body and spirit, and the fistulas closed. Slowly, life started to return to normal, and he returned to the police force full-time in 2015.
Though Alan’s recovery took an unexpected path, his Virginia Mason Franciscan Health care providers were with him every step of the way, he says. “Dr. Kanneganti is someone I see as a personal friend. She called my hospital room and stopped by on her days off to check on me. I buy her flowers every year.”
Today Alan is a strong advocate for colonoscopy screening. “Because of my experience, everyone in my family has had a colonoscopy, and I’ve heard from another six to eight people who have gone and gotten checked out. When God or your body gives you a sign, you pay attention — even if it’s from a softball.”