SHERIDAN — The annual Relay for Life fundraiser of the American Cancer Society not only raises money to fund cancer research, but it is an event to celebrate those who are survivors or are currently fighting cancer. One amazing local survivor is Dana Clark, who at the age of 31, was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer.
Clark resided in Phoenix, Ariz. before moving to Sheridan five years ago. While in Phoenix, she was plagued by recurring, unexplained stomach pain.
Because of her gender and young age, the doctors did not suspect colon cancer.
They ran many tests, but never performed a colonoscopy.
After five emergency room visits in a year due to extreme stomach pain and many tests that revealed nothing, Clark’s doctors were baffled. She received medication for pain and it eventually would go away, but it always came back later.
“My primary care physician even went so far as to tell me to see a therapist!” said Clark. “They couldn’t find anything wrong. Every time the pain was in a place like the appendix so they would go straight for an ultrasound to check the appendix and it was fine.”
On her final visit, instead of sending her home with pain medication, a surgeon suggested that her appendix ‘looked funny’ and that he would like to do an exploratory surgery.
During the surgery, it was discovered that Clark’s cancer had spread from her colon, through the caecum and then engulfed the appendix and attached to the abdominal wall. Because the appendix was surrounded by the tumor, it took the shape of the appendix, making it appear almost normal on other tests.
The cancerous growths were removed during surgery and Clark then had a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
She said while her repeated hospital visits and lack of answers from doctors frustrated her, she understands that she didn’t fit the profile of a ‘typical’ colon cancer candidate and why her doctors didn’t immediately suspect it.
“Colon cancer is more common in males and especially black males over the age of 40,” said Clark.
Ironically, during her year long treatment process, her boss at work, a black man in his 50s, got a colonoscopy due to what he learned during Clark’s ordeal. The test revealed that he too had colon cancer and unfortunately, he later passed away from the disease.
Clark is now 43 and maintains regular checkups. She initially had a colonoscopy every six months, later every year and now is on a five-year schedule, though she has blood work done annually.
“The reason it is so deadly is because people don’t do the things necessary to find it early,” she said. “We as women, we get our Pap smears and breast exams, but do we ever think about going and doing our colonoscopy? You have to listen to your body and you have to do those things.”
Clark is not involved in this year’s Relay for Life, but participated when she lived in Phoenix.
“It makes you feel so good to walk around that circle with all those cancer survivors,” she said. “It is hard to explain but when you walk around with all those luminarias glowing and you see all these people who have beat this horrible disease, it is a great thing. I love Relay. When you see these people walking you know they have been through the same feelings and things you have been through. Some maybe worse, some maybe better. But you think these are strong people to be put through that and handle that.”