Eva McLaughlin surrounded herself with supportive family members and a great healthcare team to beat colon cancer — a journey that started with one simple, but lifesaving screening.
Most people would probably shy away from discussing colon cancer and colonoscopies.
But for Mountain Top resident Eva, having a colonoscopy that diagnosed stage 2 colon cancer ultimately “gave me the freedom to say, ‘Here I am, still healthy.’” And since her successful surgery, she’s become an outspoken advocate for colonoscopy screenings.
Eva's diagnosis five years ago came as a surprise. She’d been feeling tired, but had chalked it up to working long hours in retail during the holiday season. Otherwise, she had no symptoms — until she noticed a lot of blood when she used the bathroom.
Eva went to the hospital the next day. “When the colonoscopy results came back, they realized I had full-blown colon cancer,” she recalls. “It came as a complete shock to me.”
Shock led to denial. “But I have a very strong family,” Eva says. “Everybody was fantastic. I told them, ‘I want to hear that I can do this.’ They found the cancer. They can help me find a good doctor. And I did.”
That doctor was Geisinger colorectal surgeon Dr. Christopher Buzas, who performed surgery on Eva at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
“Dr. Buzas and the team — they got the cancer,” Eva says. “I was very lucky. I didn’t need chemo. I didn’t need radiation.”
Screenings save lives
Dr. Buzas says discovering Eva's cancer in its early stages was key to avoiding treatment beyond surgery.
“Colon cancer is definitely treatable,” Dr. Buzas says. “If we find it early, the chances of successful treatment are almost 100 percent.”
Waiting until symptoms appear — which include abdominal pain, bleeding, constipation or diarrhea — “can be too late,” Dr. Buzas adds.
The best course of action? Getting recommended colonoscopies that can stop cancer before it starts.
“If we find a polyp before it turns into cancer, the chances of a cure are 100 percent,” Dr. Buzas says. “That’s why it’s so important to get your colonoscopy sooner rather than later.”
For most people, screenings should start at age 50. But colonoscopies may be recommended for younger people with a family history of colorectal cancer. And anyone who shows symptoms should seek care, regardless of age.
A survivor — and advocate
Eva can’t stress the importance of screenings enough.
“I can tell you from experience that a colonoscopy is nothing to fear —, and it could save your life,” she says. “Think about your family. Think about your responsibility. And just go get it done.”
Eva adds that having a good healthcare partner is also important.
“I trust Dr. Buzas,” she says. “He explained everything to me before I had the surgery, and he followed up afterward — just really took care of me. He’s not only a great doctor, he’s a great human being. We formed a bond.”
Dr. Buzas agrees and says Eva was a model — and special — patient.
“The wonderful thing for me is getting to know patients closely,” he adds. “I meet them when they’re at a low point in life, then we follow them for about five years after treatment. So, I get to build a relationship with them during their journey.”
In a way, Eva's cancer journey has ended. Five years after surgery, she’s cancer free. But she vows to continue advocating for colon cancer screenings.
“That’s my message,” she says. “If I can help one person, then my job is done.”