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Constance Buchanan: A Young Patient, An Advanced Surgery

Constance Buchanan is full of energy for her busy life as a working mom with two children.

It’s hard to imagine that in 2016, she faced a cancer diagnosis, surgery and many months of grueling cancer treatments.

“I was healthy as a horse my whole life,” said Buchanan, 34. “I was one of those people who never got sick.”Constance Buchanan

When she developed some minor gastrointestinal issues, she wasn’t worried. Her doctor sent her for a colonoscopy, and in February 2016, learned she had a cancerous mass in her rectum. Doctors told her she needed chemotherapy and radiation, as well as a surgery that would leave her with a colostomy.

She had surgery in June 2016. David Griffin, MD, a board-certified general surgeon with Carrollton Surgical Group, part of Tanner Medical Group, removed the cancerous mass using Tanner’s state-of-the-art da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery system.

Dr. Griffin said the robotic surgery system has cut the length of hospital stays in half for surgery patients. Surgeons are able to make much smaller incisions, resulting in less pain and a faster recovery.

“I had five tiny incisions, so I wasn’t cut all the way open and it was easier to recover,” Buchanan said.

As she recovered from surgery, she also had to learn to live with the colostomy.

“I didn’t know anyone my age who had been through this,” Buchanan said. “Being so young and having to deal with this was a shock.

Buchanan describes herself as very strong-willed and determined.

“I figure you have two choices — you can get down in the dumps about it, or you can say, ‘I’m strong and I can do this,’” she said.

Dr. Griffin said her attitude was amazing for someone facing such a difficult illness.

“She was just a bundle of energy and positivity from the first day,” Dr. Griffin said. “She was determined that she was going to overcome her disease and that she would be fine.”

More than 135,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society, making it the third most common cancer diagnosed among both men and women. And, according to Dr. Griffin, cases of it occurring in younger people — like Buchanan — is becoming more common.

“We do increasingly see these cancers in younger people, but it was certainly unusual to see it in someone so young and healthy,” Dr. Griffin said.

Dr. Griffin thinks that the recommendations will eventually be revised to encourage everyone to begin screenings younger; current guidelines call for beginning regular screenings, like colonoscopies, at age 50. He also suggests a stool hemoccult test with an annual physical.

“We seem to be seeing so many tumors and polyps in younger people,” Dr. Griffin said.

Buchanan was diagnosed at 33 and her treatment lasted nine months. She experienced extreme side effects from chemotherapy, dropping weight until the scales measured 104 pounds on her 5’ 5” frame.
“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink,” she said. “There were times when my husband had to feed me chicken broth through a syringe.”

Buchanan, who lives in Carrollton, found support from family and friends. She and her husband have two daughters, 10 and 14.

“My husband and my girls were amazing,” Buchanan said. “They had a whole lot put on them during that year, but they were fantastic.”

Her daughter’s 13th birthday was in March — one month after her cancer diagnosis. Despite being in the midst of both chemotherapy and radiation, Buchanan threw a birthday bash for her.

“She had her heart set on having a huge glow party,” Buchanan said. “I was determined that I was not going to let my sickness prevent her from having the party she had dreamed of.”

Three months later, in June of 2016, Buchanan had her minimally invasive colorectal surgery. She credits her fast recovery from that surgery with being able to begin her follow-up chemotherapy in August and complete it in November 2016.

Once again Buchanan stubbornly rallied to host a Halloween costume party that October for her daughter and about 35 other teens. She promised that if they behaved, she would host it annually.

Fast-forward a year later, and Buchanan is preparing to host the second annual Halloween costume party for her daughter. There’s no doubt that it will be epic. She is a bundle of energy and more than ready to just get on with life.