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Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital


A Mother's Legacy on Screenings

Ashley Smith and her mother Jan Smith in 2002

Ashley Smith and her mother Jan Smith in 2002

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ashley Smith, PhD, is a psychologist with the PTSD Clinical Team at Truman VA. She is passionate about helping Veterans recover from traumatic experiences. Ashley is also an advocate for life-saving prevention screenings. She hopes by sharing her story that others will be proactive about their health and get recommended vaccines and screening tests.

At the age of 53, Ashley’s mom, Jan was healthy overall. However, early in the spring of 2003, she was experiencing back pain and was referred for a routine colonoscopy. The colonoscopy revealed a tumor about the size of a softball that she had been living with for 4-5 years. The tumor was causing the back pain. Because the cancer was so advanced, neither surgery nor chemotherapy could get rid of it. But, Ashley’s mother was a fighter. She continued to work to provide for her family through all the treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment did not work and she passed away at the early age of 54.

With her family history of colon cancer - both a grandmother and mother were diagnosed - Ashley knows how important screening is for herself. She describes what her mother went through as a silent killer stating, “We are all used to having aches and pains. It’s a part of the aging process. People wouldn’t have thought back pain would mean terminal illness.” She does not ignore any GI symptoms and takes all the precautions necessary to avoid going through what her mother experienced.

Ashley describes her mom as the “kindest, most generous person I’ve ever known. She never met a stranger.” A lasting legacy for Ashley’s mother is to get the word out to others to raise awareness about how screening for colon cancer can actually prevent cancer. Unlike a lot of other screenings, if doctors find cancerous polyps, they can remove them right there and then. Ashley wishes these preventative measures would have been available for her grandmother. Ashley emphasizes that it’s never too late to get screened for colon cancer. “People don’t realize colon cancer is the highest killer for men and women and, in a lot of ways, it’s preventable. If you can ever prevent a cancer, I don’t know why you would ever choose not to do so.”

VHA recommends screening for colorectal cancer in adults age 50-75. The decision to screen for colorectal cancer in adults age 76 through 85 should be an individual one, taking into account the patient’s overall health and prior screening history. Let your medical provider know if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.


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