Alan Stachura - Patient Story
"Dr. Hall is a caring doctor and a wonderful person."
— Alan Stachura, Government Relations
Not many people can say they "grew up at Fox Chase," but Alan Stachura can. When he was only six years old, his mother was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. When she arrived at Fox Chase Cancer Center to meet with medical oncologist Paul F. Engstrom, MD, she learned that the disease had already spread to her bones.
Alan attributes this in part to the fact that because she was nursing her third child at the time, she was not offered a mammogram (plus she had not reached the age of 40, when most women have their first mammogram). Alan's father accompanied his wife to her appointments with Dr. Engstrom. During one appointment, he mentioned a nagging pain in his back. Dr. Engstrom immediately ordered some tests. And that is when Alan's father was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Alan learned at a young age that he was at increased risk of developing cancer.
Alan and his siblings spent much of their childhood at Fox Chase with their parents. After a seven-year battle, Alan's mother passed away. His father, whose cancer treatment was successful, was left to raise three children. If that weren't enough for a single father, he had another concern - that his children were at increased risk of cancer themselves.
Dr. Engstrom explained the importance of screening for Alan and his siblings. When he reached the age of 21, he began having annual colonoscopies. "It wasn't the most exciting way to celebrate my birthday, but I understood the importance of screening," shared Alan, who continued to be screened annually - with negative results - for the next nine years.
On January 17, 2010, at the age of 30, he learned that he learned that he had colon cancer. "I always knew I was at risk of getting cancer, but I didn't expect it until I was well into my sixties," Alan explained. Just before the surgery, certified genetic counselor Christina Rybak, MS, CGC, reached out to Alan to encourage him to participate in the Fox Chase Risk Assessment Program, helping patients understand their family risk for cancer. Alan decided to get tested for Lynch Syndrome, which puts individuals at an increased risk for several types of cancer, including colon. "I decided to get tested, but also scheduled surgery."
Because Alan was in excellent health otherwise, his doctor offered him two choices for treatment - they could remove the polyp, or they could perform a colon resection. "I chose the least invasive procedure, and the polyp turned out to be malignant," shared Alan. "My tumor never showed up in blood work or a CAT Scan, so I am vigilant about follow-up appointments and screening tests."
"I always knew I was at risk of getting cancer, but I didn't expect it until I was well into my sixties."
Following surgery, Dr. Engstrom referred Alan to Michael Hall, MD, a gastrointestinal cancer specialist at Fox Chase. "Dr. Hall is a caring doctor and a wonderful person," shared Alan. When Alan received the news that he did test positive for Lynch Syndrome, he encouraged his siblings to be tested.
"My brother David is a molecular biologist, so he was very interested in being tested right away," said Alan. "Fortunately, he tested negative." His sister, Barbara, wasn't as lucky. Her test results were also positive for Lynch Syndrome. With that information, she gets screened annually and is aware of her increased risk for cancer.
Alan's extended family has listened to him, and several aunts, uncles and cousins have been tested. He believes the Risk Assessment Program provides much-needed education and support for people in his situation.
Once he recovered from surgery, Alan returned to the gym to work out, and to his career in government relations for a corporate and tax compliance company. He and his partner, Karl, enjoy international travel as well. Alan recalled a long-planned trip to Fiji which would end just five days prior to surgery. He consulted with his surgeon, who said "Go, have fun. A few days won't make a difference." Alan said he was the tannest patient they had seen in January!
As Alan moves forward with his life, he will continue to be vigilant about his check ups and encourages others to do the same. "If you think there is a risk of cancer in your family, there probably is. The genetic counselors at Fox Chase's Risk Assessment Program provide valuable information and guidance. I recommend them to anyone with a strong family history of cancer."