Hope Hawn is no stranger to intense situations. As a victim advocate for the Lakewood Police Department, Hope responds to crisis calls to provide comfort, support and referrals. Ironically, Hope has never felt particularly comfortable around doctors. For many years, she avoided doctors altogether.
“For some reason, I’ve always had this strong fear of doctors. So I’ve resisted going to the doctor, and I hadn’t had a physical in like 22 years,” she says.
But when her mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in October 2012, Hope started feeling pressure from friends and family to finally visit the place she had long avoided—the doctor’s office.
“I always assumed if I did the right things, that I didn’t need to worry about it,” she says.
Her mother, having undergone surgery after her cancer was discovered, encouraged Hope to get a colonoscopy. Hope’s three sisters were equally persistent, and when a close friend asked her about the last time she had had a physical, she told him not to go there.
She explained her fear of doctors and remained convinced that she didn’t need a physical. Believing she was fine, and feeling just that way, she decided against going to the doctor.
Eventually, at the urging of friends and family, she finally agreed to schedule an appointment to prove them wrong.
“So I called and made an appointment, fully expecting to go in and have the doctor say, ‘Oh everything’s great, see you in about another 20 years!’” she says.
Finally confronting her fears, Hope went in for her physical. The doctor called her about a week later to tell her she had low iron and that it was probably normal for someone her age. Hope was advised to schedule her first colonoscopy, just to be certain.
She called gastroenterologist Dr. Jonathan Fishman at Rose Medical Center to set up a consultation. Dr. Fishman also believed that her low iron levels could be due to her age, and it wasn’t particularly unusual to have that deficiency. Offering emotional support, a nurse comforted Hope, suggesting she treat herself after the procedure. Expecting a clean bill of health, or perhaps instructions to take iron supplements, Hope had her first colonoscopy.
When she woke up, Dr. Fishman was with her. He explained the results of her colonoscopy, and gave her a difficult diagnosis. Hope had colorectal cancer.
“About then I almost fell off the table,” says Hope, recalling the shock.
Rose colorectal surgeon Dr. David Longcope walked into Hope’s room, and the two instantly recognized each other. They had gotten to know each other months earlier—Dr. Longcope was her mother’s surgeon too.
“Oh I think [Dr. Longcope] is outstanding. In fact, if I hadn’t had seen him in the emergency room, I probably would have gotten up and said, ‘I’m not having the surgery,’ or ran away. But because I knew him from my mom’s experience, and [because] he has a very calming effect… I think that’s the one thing that kept me from not just getting up that day and going, ‘OK, I’m not going to face this!’ or running out of the room,” says Hope.
About a week later, during a surgical procedure, Dr. Longcope removed the tumor and approximately eight inches of Hope’s colon. She has been cancer free since the surgery.
“Rose was wonderful,” she says. “I loved the hospital. The nurses were all really friendly and very attentive to my needs.”
Dr. Longcope told Hope that her tumor was particularly aggressive and that the timing turned out to be really good. If she had waited much longer, the cancer would have likely spread outside of her colon.
“He told me I was probably one of the luckiest women on earth,” Hope says.
Recovering very quickly, Hope left the hospital just two days after her surgery. She didn’t experience any complications, and she even worried Dr. Longcope when she went without any pain medication.
“Actually it went really well,” she says of her procedure.
Hope was diagnosed in April 2013. About a week after her diagnosis, she had surgery. By September, Hope and her sister were on a plane to Paris, France, to finally enjoy Hope’s “dream trip.”
She had to postpone her dream vacation when she found out she had cancer. After her surgery, Hope was finally able to take the trip as a celebration of all that she had overcome.
Now, she keeps a picture of Dr. Longcope on her desk. He was featured on the cover of 5280 magazine as one of the “Top Docs” in Colorado, and Hope can vouch for that herself.
“People say, ‘Oh is that your boyfriend?’” she says. “I say, ‘No, that’s the doctor that saved my life.’ So then I tell them, ‘You need to have a colonoscopy.’”
Since Hope’s experience with cancer, her perspective on visits to the doctor’s office has changed. She encourages others to be proactive about their health, and she is determined to adopt the same approach.
“Now I realize the importance of keeping on top of my health,” she says.
“The medical field is so far advanced these days that if you catch cancer early, then your chance of survival is very high,” she says. “So you shouldn’t let [the] fear of getting that diagnosis stop you from going in and being checked out.”
The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Hope is our survivor for March.