Patient Stories / Gena Pavey - Colon Cancer Patient
Gena Pavey, 44, calls herself the poster child for Colorectal Cancer awareness. In March 2010, she had a preventative colonoscopy, a screening that probes the colon with an endoscopic camera looking for cancer. Though she had no symptoms, her father's diagnosis with colon cancer at age 50 impelled her to get checked.
"After my colonoscopy, I just wanted to get a pat on the back for being proactive," she said.
Unfortunately, the prognosis was not what she expected. The doctors found a tumor, with the subsequent biopsy confirming a cancer diagnosis. Pavey was in disbelief. That day, March 16, 2010, she threw on a bikini and hit the beach. She knew a colostomy bag would prevent her from wearing a bikini again. So, she soaked in the sun and jumped in the ocean for a swim. The water made her feel so alive.
"I'm healthy," she thought. "This has to be a mistake."
She had no digestion problems or irregular bowel movements. She was high energy—working nights at a pharmaceutical warehouse for the last 15 years and spending her days acting, writing and producing TV and film. This tumor was silent. Pavey sought out second, third and fourth opinions. Friends recommended Dr. Zuri Akida Murrell, Director of the Colorectal Cancer Center at Cedars Sinai.
Her father died from complications during a colon resection surgery. So, when she walked into Dr. Murrell's office, he could sense her fear. She loved his energy right away.
"Are you scared?" He asked.
"No, I'm just mad, this is crappy, literally," she said.
Dr. Murrell explained that things had changed since her father's surgery. He now performs minimally invasive laparoscopic colorectal surgery. Dr. Murrell drew on her abdomen where the tiny incisions would be made and showed her how he would go in through her belly button. He promised if all went well with the surgery, she'd have her six pack back, no colostomy and could comfortably wear her bikini again. Though she had sought out other opinions, she liked Dr. Murrell's positive attitude.
"What could I have done to prevent it?" she asked.
"You're doing everything right, sometimes it's just the hand that you're dealt," Dr. Murrell said.
At that point, she realized he was right. Pavey stopped seeing herself as a victim asking why. She named her tumor and vowed to beat it. Before the surgery, she had a "Beat Cancer Party" and invited all of her friends. She had to tell them all anyway, so why not just have a party and share the news together? Pavey had t-shirts made and one read, "Cancer bringing friends and families together for years." At the party, friends signed her abdomen. Many wrote notes saying, "Gena is stronger than you cancer. She will beat you."
And she did. After the surgery, Dr. Murrell came in to tell her, he got it all. And she didn't have to undergo preventative chemotherapy. She was emotional. He saved her life.
Today, she realizes that when you beat cancer, your life changes forever. You have a new birthday, the day of your surgery. On the year anniversary of living cancer-free, she returned to the beach to release all of her pain and fears attached to the cancer. This year marks her second anniversary of being cancer-free. Her advice to folks who have family history, go get checked. Don't wait for symptoms, by then it will have spread. This is one of the most curable cancers.
"I consider myself one of the luckiest ones," she said. But don't call her a cancer survivor. She prefers to be called a warrior, because she didn't just survive cancer. Pavey beat cancer.