A Geneticist Saved My Life


A geneticist I never met in person saved my life by insisting my gastroenterologist do a new colonoscopy. Had it not been for Mellissa Clarkson, I would have battled a new cancer that may have been discovered too late.

Mellissa Clarkson. I’ve seen her face but never the rest of her appearance. Last month she saved my life. I hope all cancer survivors have someone like Mellissa in their lives.

In 2007, I was first diagnosed with colon cancer: a lime-sized tumor. A surgeon removed about 12 inches of my large intestine. I had chemotherapy and radiation treatment. For the next seven years, annual colonoscopies revealed adenoma-type cancer polyps, which my gastroenterologist removed. Starting 2016, for two years the gastroenterologist found no new polyps in my system.

By then I was 80 years old. I realized some doctors had apparently decided that people of my age didn’t need their cancers treated, as they wouldn’t live much longer anyway. Thus, when my doctors said, “no more colonoscopies,” I didn’t object. Those tests are not fun…rather the prep clearly is not fun.

My mother, both of her parents and her only sibling (a sister), plus my only sister all died of cancers. With that family history, I wanted to learn if I’d passed cancer genes on to my children. The Willamette Valley Cancer Institute in Eugene, Oregon set up a video conference between a geneticist in Portland, Oregon and me. I spent an hour in front of a computer chatting with the face of this geneticist, Mellissa Clarkson. She arranged for my health insurance to pay the $5,000 to study my genes. She sent me a dozen pages that explained the five faulty genes the tests discovered that had caused my cancer.

I happened to mention to Mellissa that my last two colonoscopies had shown no new cancer polyps and the doctors said I didn’t need more of those awful colon tests. Mellissa said, “What! No more colonoscopies?” She sounded quite upset, but I didn’t pay attention to her dismay.

A few days later, my gastroenterologist’s office phoned me. “Your next colonoscopy will be in two months.”

I was totally surprised, but agreed to have the procedure, even though I was now 82 years old. During that exam, the doc found two new adenoma-type cancer polyps. I learned that Mellissa Clarkson had set up this colonoscopy appointment, even though she had no real authority to do so.

If those two polyps had not been discovered, my cancer would have returned and possibly gone unnoticed until after a spread of cancer cells. Now my oncologist has ordered an MRI and a mammogram every year for the rest of my life, as well as colonoscopies every year or two. (I told my oncologist I could maybe expect to live another fifteen years and he agreed.)

Mellissa Clarkson saved my life by insisting my gastroenterologist do a new colonoscopy on my intestines. Otherwise I’d have battled a new cancer that may have been discovered too late.

Mellissa doesn’t know this, but I’m sure God pushed her to insist on the colon test. He took care of me through a woman I’ve only seen by face on a computer screen, coming from a hundred and twenty miles away. I know God worked through Mellissa because when I was first diagnosed with colon cancer, He clearly promised me, “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I AM your God. I will strengthen you and uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10.) He’s done exactly that.

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