Timely screenings empowered Lauren

Lauren Speegle personifies the word “busy.” She’s a high school math teacher, a tutor, a cheer team advisor and a mother of two young children. With every hour of the day being filled with a task, it would be easy for her to ignore reminders of her doctor appointments.

But she never does, because at just 36 years of age, Lauren is a colon cancer survivor.

“I schedule and keep all of my appointments as if my life depends upon it. I wasn’t always so vigilant though,” says Lauren. “Three years ago, I was running on fumes. I had a 2-year-old, a 9-month-old and persistent fatigue. I convinced myself that was normal.”

It wasn’t until she experienced severe abdominal pain and a low-grade fever, that she became concerned and went to see her doctor at Edinger Medical Group. She had developed a small hernia during her last pregnancy and thought that might be the problem, so she contacted general surgeon Kelly Francis, M.D.

“After examining Lauren, I immediately ordered a CAT scan which revealed a large inflammatory mass in her colon,” says Dr. Francis. “It turned out to be cancer, Stage IIIB, meaning it was advanced, with a significant risk of reoccurrence.”

Genetic Testing

Lauren underwent surgery to remove the mass and was referred to medical oncologist, N. Simon Tchekmedyian, M.D., for chemotherapy.

“It was striking to see a patient of her age with colon cancer,” says Dr. Tchekmedyian. “Her family history suggested nothing abnormal so I became even more concerned. I recommended a comprehensive genetic evaluation.”

Dr. Tchekmedyian’s suspicions were confirmed when testing identified a rare variant in a gene known as MLH1 that helps repair mistakes in DNA. Without this repair mechanism, abnormal cells continue to divide, possibly increasing the risk of colorectal, breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.

“At first, I was confused. Possible cancer? With the help of Dr. Francis and my care team at Orange Coast Medical Center, I realized that this whole situation was actually a good thing,” says Lauren. “I was in control. I had choices to make, very difficult ones, but many people don’t have that opportunity.”

Determining Her fate

In 2016, the National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, including breast, lung, kidney and colon cancers. With cancer of all types affecting our communities, Orange Coast Medical Center is committed to providing premium cancer care, state-of-the-art treatments and compassionate support.

For Lauren, early detection and genetic screening allowed her to be proactive and make informed decisions.

“I didn’t want to chase down potential tumors for the rest of my life and live in fear. Preventive surgeries were the right choice for me and gave me the best chance at survival. I will watch my kids grow up,” says Lauren.

To thwart colon cancer recurrence, gastrointestinal surgeon Tam Le, M.D. and Dr. Francis removed Lauren’s entire colon and rectum, and reconstructed them using the lower portion of her small intestine. To prevent uterine and ovarian cancer, OB/GYN Meagan Moore, M.D. and Dr. Francis performed a total hysterectomy and ovary removal. Finally, to prevent breast cancer, Dr. Francis performed a bilateral mastectomy and, in the same surgery, plastic surgeon Eliza-Jasmine Tran M.D. did the reconstruction.

Fortunately, Lauren’s genetic predisposition to cancer is extremely rare. For most people, monthly self-exams, annual physicals, mammograms and other recommended screenings can catch cancer at its earliest, most curable stages.

Breast Cancer Awareness

One of the most prevalent types of cancer is that of the breast, accounting for about 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women. While it occurs most often over the age of 50, younger women are also at risk – even if there is no family history of the disease. That’s why regular annual mammograms, beginning at age 40, are essential to early detection.

The breast specialists at the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center help thousands of women and men each year by offering:

  • Digital Mammography
  • Tomosynthesis (3D) Mammography for women with dense breast tissue
  • Dedicated Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Breast Ultrasound
  • Ductogram/Ductography

To schedule your appointment, please call (714) 378-7955 or visit our section on Breast Care for more information. Watch Lauren’s story now: