“I’m healthy,” thought Mark Ahles, PhD. “Life is busy, and waiting one year won’t matter – after all, we have no family history of colon cancer.
With that logic and a full plate of military work in Afghanistan plus an extraordinarily busy family- and professional-life stateside , Ahles put off for a year the screening that’s recommended for most people to begin at age 50.
But immediately following his colon cancer screening at age 51, Ahles was quietly ushered into a private room. “Not good,” he remembers thinking.
The verdict: his doctors had found a rectal tumor, which they labelled moderately advanced, and recommended a colostomy, chemotherapy and a life-long colostomy bag. “One year made the different between an easy and a hard surgery,” he explains.
A three-times OSU graduate as well as a PhD, Ahles likes his research, so he began studying up on his disease and his options. “I read everything I could. I talked to family and friends who are physicians. And I found that less radical surgery was possible but not done as often.
That’s when Ahles turned to The James, gastrointestinal oncologist Kristen Ciombor, MD, who specializes in colorectal cancers, and surgical oncologist Mark Arnold, MD, who specializes in colon and rectal surgeries for cancer patients.
“Dr. Arnold told me, ‘I can see why they’d suggest the radical technique, but I think we can make a less radical surgery work.’” When Ahles asked why other physicians had recommended the more radical option, Arnold was both straight-forward and reassuring. “He said, ‘I can’t speak for them, but the surgery will be difficult, and if done wrong, could have significant blood loss – so I won’t do it wrong.’
Adds Ahles, “I knew that The James’s survival rates are good – again, I did my research – so I trusted Dr. Arnold and Dr. Ciombor.
After a highly successful (and significantly less radical) surgery, Ahles began his journey as a colorectal cancer survivor.“Like all colorectal cancer patients, the recovery and discovery of how my new plumbing would work was frustrating,”
Ahles shares, “but the great team at The James was always there to answer questions. Nurse Mallory lightened my day with the driest sense of humor (which was just what I needed, and Dr. Ciombor was wonderful – she explained everything and made strong recommendations but let me make my decisions. She gave detailed recovery, treatment and follow-up testing which I’ve followed exactly.”
Today, Ahles describes himself as lucky and has returned to his busy lifestyle, but with a profound gratitude and renewed focus on health and what’s truly important in his life. Exactly one year after his surgery, Ahles walked his daughter down the aisle, and the next month, flew to Kabul to teach Afghan military personnel.
“My family’s thanks to the whole team of great staff at the James,” says Ahles, “and most especially to Dr. Arnold, Dr. Ciombor and Nurse Mallory.”