Marlborough resident becomes unlikely advocate for colon cancer screening


Dorothy O’Shea (Photo/submitted)

By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer

Marlborough – At her 50-year annual physical, Marlborough resident Dorothy O’Shea was advised by her doctor that she should undergo a routine colonoscopy. Like many, she was very reluctant.

“I knew I should be screened, but I didn’t want a colonoscopy,” she recalled.

A vegetarian, runner and full-time accountant, O’Shea led a healthy, busy life and had no reason to believe her health was in question.

“A friend with colon cancer told me I need to go,” O’Shea said. “He kept pushing. Now I understand why, but at the time I just wanted to humor him.”

She scheduled her colonoscopy, but after receiving the packet detailing everything she needed to do to prepare for the procedure, she decided to cancel.

It was the preparation that really made her hesitant to go forward, particularly the eating restrictions.

“Because I am a vegetarian, my diet is already very restricted,” she explained. “I didn’t want to only eat mashed potatoes and oatmeal for three days beforehand.”

O’Shea talked to her doctor about other screening options, who suggested that she was a good candidate for an at-home stool DNA test called Cologuard. The test analyzes stool to detect both altered DNA and blood known to be associated with cancer and pre-cancer and patients can complete it at home with a prescription from their doctor.

“There is very little preparation involved,” O’Shea said. “The only issue is the timing. You have to send the sample in right away.”

A short time later, O’Shea was shocked when her test came back positive for signs of cancer. She ultimately had a colonoscopy – one of two she would have to undergo – that confirmed Stage 1 colon cancer.

“The first one was awful,” she recalled, “but you do what you have to do.”

The colonoscopy revealed a quarter-sized tumor and 17 lymph nodes that needed to be removed surgically.

Luckily for O’Shea, the cancer was caught early and could be removed laparoscopically. She is now cancer-free, back to running, and has become a vocal advocate for screening, crediting early detection for saving her life.

“I have been out there with my diagnosis and treatment,” O’Shea said. “If I had to have cancer, I may as well do some good with it.”

O’Shea urged everyone to be screened and to talk to their doctor about any concerns. In her case, she would never have discovered her cancer unless she had tried the Cologuard test.

Twenty-three million Americans are not current on their colon cancer screening – a primary reason why colon cancer, despite being highly preventable and treatable if caught early, is the second-leading cancer killer. The disease will take about 50,000 lives in 2017.