Even though Robin Odle knew she needed a colonoscopy when she turned 50, she put it off.
“I’d been traumatized by a prior GI test, so I didn’t do it out of fear, and I was extremely apprehensive about the prep,” she says.
Ten years later – on March 28, 2016 – Robin started experiencing intermittent cramping and bleeding. A gastroenterologist in Memphis, Tennessee performed a colonoscopy and found a polyp too large to remove. The biopsy didn’t show cancer, but the doctor said they still needed to remove that polyp.
“The gastroenterologist referred me to a surgeon who said he’d take out a great portion of the colon, that it was a ‘major, major surgery,’ and I could die,” she says. “I left angry and upset.”
Search for advanced surgical techniques leads to MD Anderson
Robin began searching online for doctors who could perform a less invasive procedure. She came across MD Anderson’s Gottumukkala Raju, M.D., and was impressed by his expertise with endoscopic mucosal resections, a delicate technique that removed complex polyps with an endoscope. She called MD Anderson and set up an appointment.
“During my initial visit with Dr. Raju, I told him that if he couldn’t do the endoscopic mucosal resection, then I wouldn’t go forward with treatment, that I would accept death,” she says.
On Oct. 20, Dr. Raju performed a second colonoscopy and immediately diagnosed Robin with colorectal cancer. Her only treatment option was a partial colectomy, the surgical removal of part of her colon.
“I was so certain that I couldn’t have a major surgery because it was going to debilitate me, like I was told by the other doctor,” she said.
Strength to continue colorectal cancer treatment
Robin was ready to give up, but Dr. Raju wasn’t.
“He told me immediately, ‘You can’t let this go. You have to do this, you have to do this.’ I told him I really didn’t have a support network, and he said, ‘People will show up.’ He was so certain, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He wouldn’t allow me to just accept that this would be the end of my life,” she says. “There was such passion, kindness and spirituality within him. When someone wanted me to live that badly, how could I dare not trust him and move forward with my life?”
Advance care planning provides peace of mind
With the help of her MD Anderson social work counselor, Robin had already appointed a medical power of attorney and completed a living will prior to her colonoscopy. Knowing she’d done advance care planning gave her some peace of mind once she agreed to surgery since it relieved some of the pressure on the friend she’d asked to become her caregiver.
“I wouldn’t want to put the burden of responsibility on someone,” she says. “I also wanted to be able to make my last choices. No one can know exactly what someone wants unless someone tells them and puts that in effect.”
Minimally invasive robotic surgery for colorectal cancer treatment
On Dec. 5, George Chang, M.D., performed the three-hour minimally invasive robotic surgery. He removed her cecum valve, a part of her colon, 37 lymph nodes and her gallbladder, which was full of stones.
Robin was able to walk within hours and left the hospital just three days later.
“It was the most painless surgery that I’ve ever had. I’ve had tooth extractions that gave me more pain,” she says. “Dr. Chang is magnificent. He’s like an artist for surgery.”
A new attitude
Robin is now undergoing eight rounds of chemotherapy with Bryan Kee, M.D., because her cancer had spread to five of the 37 lymph nodes she had removed. But she has lots of hope, and she credits Dr. Raju for that.
“Even though I didn’t receive from him what I came here for, I received so much more,” she says. “He’s a miracle like I’ve never experienced before. He’s my saint on Earth.”
“No matter how much we think no one cares, that’s just not true,” she says. “People really will show up, and they’ll show up exactly when we need them and exactly for the purpose that we need them.”
For more information on advance care planning, please contact MD Anderson's Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or tell your nurse or doctor that you would like speak with a social work counselor.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.