Jennifer Cunningham, a colorectal cancer survivor who was treated at Broward Health Coral Springs, has her children checked every year for precancerous colon polyps. She's taking a pro-active approach to preventing cancer, knowing the gene runs through her family.
Jennifer first learned about colorectal cancer when her mother, then 52, was diagnosed with precancerous polyps. Her mother had a colectomy, a procedure to remove either part or all of the colon.
That's when Jennifer learned that she also had a 50 percent chance of developing cancer due to carrying a cancer-causing gene.
"We didn't quite understand it at the time, and my mom shielded us from it," said Jennifer, 44, who works as a dispatcher for Broward Sherrif's Office. "We didn't talk about it much when she had the surgery."
In 2001, Jennifer was 26 and attending paramedic school. She wasn't feeling well, so she went to a gastroenterologist who performed a sigmoidoscopy, a minimally invasive medical examination of the large intestine. She had 10 polyps and needed to have a total colectomy at Broward Health Coral Springs to save her life. It was a difficult surgery and she spent about two months in the hospital, but Jennifer remembers the compassionate care she received as a patient.
Three years later, Jennifer's older sister, Elizabeth Perryman, was diagnosed with a tumor and had emergency surgery at Broward Health Coral Springs to remove part of her colon. She was 35 at the time. Elizabeth spent the next six and a half years bravely fighting cancer with ongoing chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her battle at the age of 42, leaving behind two sons, one who had a life-saving total colectomy at the age of 18.
Jennifer is committed to preventing the spread of colorectal cancer in her family. Her 8-year-old son, Justin, has already tested positive for the gene. When he turns 10, he'll have a sigmoidoscopy every year to test for polyps, and if they find polyps, he'll have a total colectomy, just like she did.
"It's extremely important to get tested, because it's completely preventable if you get it checked in time," Jennifer said. "Don't put it off and don't delay it.
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