Early Detection Saves Lives
Colon cancer survivor and Mechanicsburg native Rachel Shaffer credits PA GI with a life-saving procedure that detected her cancer early.
“Be your own advocate.”
In 2004, Rachel Shaffer knew that something wasn’t right. A student at Shippensburg University, Rachel was completing her student teaching at the Milton Hershey School when she began experiencing discomfort that didn’t seem to go away. Her symptoms persisted for six months when the school’s health center finally diagnosed her with irritable bowel syndrome and suggested that she see her family doctor.
Rachel’s family doctor didn’t provide any further answers, but because Rachel pushed for more information, her doctor referred her to Dr. David Peters at Pennsylvania Gastroenterology. At 24 years old, Rachel did not fit any of the stereotypes of a colon cancer patient, but an off-hand comment made to Dr. Peters changed the course of her treatment. According to Rachel, “I mentioned to Dr. Peters that my sister had Crohn's disease. That information was enough for him to want to pursue a colonoscopy just to rule out that disease or any complications. I truly believe that his willingness to listen to me is what saved my life.”
Dr. Peters was aggressive in his investigation, scheduling lab tests, blood work, and an immediate colonoscopy. “The test was easy, and although my doctor found some inflammation to be biopsied, he was confident that things were fine,” Rachel said. It wasn’t until a week later when she was called back to the PA GI offices that Rachel found the diagnosis was colon cancer. “I went to that appointment by myself thinking it was no big deal, and then had to immediately drive to Holy Spirit Hospital alone for a CT scan. That’s how quickly it happened.”
Because several cells were found in Rachel’s lymph nodes, she was required to have surgery to remove a section of her colon and also faced up to eight months of chemotherapy. Rachel’s life was suddenly on hold as the treatments forced her to drop out of school and quit her student teaching job so that she could focus on beating her cancer.
Rachel’s last chemotherapy appointment was in May, 2005, and she has been cancer-free since then. She will have to have a colonoscopy every two years for the rest of her life, but so far, she has had no further issues and five years ago was released from treatment from her oncologist.
Now married and preparing for a move to the state of Washington with her husband, who is in the Air Force, Rachel is grateful for the aggressive treatment that Dr. Peters provided ten years ago. “He could have thought it was no big deal because I was 24, but he didn’t. Because I continued to advocate for referrals and because of his willingness to schedule that colonoscopy, I’m still here today.”
The experience made Rachel realize that her plan to become a teacher was not the best career option for her. Now a business analyst at Rite-Aid, she is working on her MBA in healthcare administration and hopes to eventually work as a patient advocate, helping others who find themselves in unexpected circumstances.
“Things really do happen for a reason, even though we don’t see it at the time. I really found my true calling.”