The year 2013 was a year that Kim Austin, 53, of Willowick, would like to have skipped. The passing of her brother-in-law - one of three relatives who had recently passed away - marked that year. Her husband was throwing around the idea of moving out of state. Just thinking about a possible move gave her an instant stomachache.
The added anxiety seemed to be causing urgent, frequent bowel movements and traces of blood in her stool. “There was a lot of stress in my life at that time, and I attributed the change in my bowel habits to those stressors. I thought I was experiencing irritable bowel syndrome,” recalls Kim.
During a conversation with her niece who is a nurse, she mentioned a dull pelvic ache that had been bothering her for two weeks. Her niece thought it could possibly be her ovary, but suggested that Kim see her primary care physician to find out the cause of her discomfort. Kim decided to take her advice and called for an appointment.
During the appointment, Kim discussed the issues she was having with her physician. He told her that a CT scan and MRI were needed to find out what was causing the pain in her pelvic region.
"Dr. Carey called me at home and stressed its importance. That call made me go forward with the biopsy."
When the test results came back, they showed a questionable liver mass. Her physician recommended a gastroenterology appointment to determine the cause of the mass. Kim called Cleveland Clinic Willoughby Hills Family Health Center and made a same-day appointment with Emily Carey, DO, a gastroenterologist.
“After I spoke to Kim and reviewed the tests, I ordered a liver biopsy,” says Dr. Carey. But Kim wasn’t sure she wanted to have the liver biopsy. “Dr. Carey called me at home and stressed its importance. That call made me go forward with the biopsy,” she remembers.
The results showed Kim had stage four colon cancer that had spread to her liver. “Kim didn’t have any risk factors, so it was a little surprising to find out she had cancer,” says Dr. Carey. A colonoscopy was done to pinpoint the cancer’s location.
Kim then saw a colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic main campus to discuss her course of care. "Kim's healthcare is a perfect example of the collaboration that takes place between Cleveland Clinic main campus and our regional facilities," says Dr. Carey.
Kim completed eight rounds of chemotherapy at main campus. She had a brief recovery from her chemotherapy before having surgery. Cleveland Clinic surgeons removed tumors that affected her rectum, sigmoid colon and liver. Then, they created an ileostomy - a temporary opening for digestive waste to bypass the areas where Kim had surgery; this gave those areas time to heal without the stress of normal digestion.
After Kim finished four additional rounds of chemotherapy, the ileostomy was removed at main campus. Kim handled everything well throughout her care and continues to do well.
“I love to walk,” says Kim. “I continued to walk through my treatments. After surgery, I needed assistance and I couldn’t go far. My husband, son, daughter and friends helped me at the beginning. I increased my distance every day and eventually gained my independence. Soon, I could take my dogs by myself. That’s when I knew I was healthy again.”
Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center,
Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute