When harp maker Steve Barnett learned he had colon cancer in 2012, he wasn’t ready to meet his maker. So he prepared for the battle of his life.
“Dr. Gaw prescribed that I would take about 6 or 8 weeks of chemo and radiation. And after that it shrunk the tumor down to where it was operable. Unfortunately she had to take all of the rectum and a fair portion of the colon as well,” says Barnett.
The treatment was successful, but in losing a piece of himself, Steve also found he lost something else. Bowel control. Some studies show more than half of people treated for colorectal cancer experience some degree of bowel incontinence at least once a week.
“It is actually more prevalent than people think,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, a colorectal surgeon on medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System. “It’s one of those taboo topics no one wants to talk about. People who have it are embarrassed about it, they don’t even tell their own doctors about it.”
The inability to control his bowels pushed Steve to the limit.
“I’d go to bed have to get up. Go back to bed. Have to get up. It was just constant and nothing got any better,” says Barnett.
Getting rid of the cancer is not an end point for everyone. Coping with complications presents a new challenge. When it comes to bowel control- doctors have a deep arsenal.
“First we look at their diet, we try to bulk up their stools with fiber supplements. Sometimes we constipate people with anti-diarrheals. We also send them to what we call biofeedback therapy,” says Dr. Gaw.
When none of these provided relief, Steve opted for an implantable nerve stimulator.
“I describe it as a pacemaker for the pelvis. It’s about the size of a small stopwatch, its flat and it will be permanently placed under the skin and fat around the buttocks,” says Dr. Gaw.
The same stimulator has been used for years in bladder control, now it’s approved for fecal incontinence.
“It’s been inserted. It’s there, hardly feel it, hardly know its there,” says Barnett. “Now I can go out and not worry.”
For Steve and others like him, it’s restoring rhythm in their life.
View More Health Matters video segments at leememorial.org/healthmatters/
Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, FL is the largest network of medical care facilities in Southwest Florida and is highly respected for its expertise, innovation and quality of care. For nearly a century, we’ve been providing our community with everything from primary care treatment to highly specialized care services and robotic assisted surgeries.
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