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Tumor Gone, Judy Willis Gets Back to Living

Robotic surgery helped Judy Willis regain her health after a difficult medical journey and an unexpected diagnosis.

Willis began suffering from stomach problems and nausea, which caused her to rapidly lose weight and drained her energy. She was eventually diagnosed with an infection of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria in her digestive tract.Judy Willis in garden

H. pylori is a type of bacteria that can enter the body through food, water or contact with saliva of infected people. It lives in the digestive tract. It often causes no problems, but it can lead to stomach ulcers and other serious conditions.

A blood test revealed that Willis had staggeringly high levels of the H. pylori bacteria in her body.

“The doctor said it was the worst case he had seen in a very long time,” she said. “He put me on 4,000 milligrams of antibiotics a day for 14 days.”

Willis, 67, started to feel a little better but never completely recovered. She continued to lose weight and developed a sharper pain in her upper stomach.

“I got down to 101 pounds and it was scary,” Willis said. “At my age, you don’t want to be losing that much weight and getting so thin and frail.”

Willis said she weighed 132 pounds before she got sick with H. pylori.

She went back to her primary care doctor. He sent her to a gastroenterologist, who ordered some diagnostic tests, including a colonoscopy. The results showed not only that Willis was suffering from chronic gastritis, but also that she had a tumor in her colon.

“I was shocked, and I knew if I hadn’t gotten sick with H. pylori I would never have known about having a tumor in my colon,” Willis said. “God works in mysterious ways.”

Willis admitted she didn’t always keep up with recommended screenings, so she wouldn’t have gone for a colonoscopy had she not gotten sick.

Willis went to see David Griffin, MD, a board-certified general surgeon with Carrollton Surgical Group. A biopsy showed the tumor was a tubulovillous adenoma, which would turn into cancer and had a high rate of recurrence, Willis said.

“I was nervous, but Dr. Griffin was so wonderful about explaining everything and putting me at ease,” Willis said. “Dr. Griffin is an amazing surgeon, so I knew I was in great hands.”

Willis went in for robotic-assisted surgery with Dr. Griffin on Feb. 1 — her birthday. The surgery involved removing nine inches of her colon and a dozen lymph nodes through a series of very small incisions.

Judy Willis sitting in a garden“One of the areas where robotic-assisted surgery has the most benefit is in colorectal care,” said Dr. Griffin. “It allows us to operate with such precision that we’re able to give patients one of the best opportunities at a positive outcome.”

Willis said she felt lucky to have robotic-assisted surgery instead of a traditional procedure.

“Had it not been done robotically I would have been cut open and the recovery would have been so much longer,” she said.

She spent just four days in the hospital.

“Everybody took such great care of me,” Willis said. “All of the nurses at Tanner are such wonderful people.”

Willis said she felt pretty good when she got home, but ended up back in the hospital two days later from an extremely painful kidney stone.

“I’m just so happy that I am finally recovered,” Willis said. “I’m thankful to God, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped me get through this.”