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The day after her 45th birthday, Amy Figgs found herself in the hospital with severe abdominal pain. She soon learned it was much more than a bad stomachache. Doctors in her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, diagnosed her with metastatic colon cancer.
"I was stage 4 with cancer in my colon and my liver," recalls the mother of two. "They basically told me I was inoperable."
Amy wasn't about to let it go at that, so she began a biweekly chemotherapy regimen. But due to her dire prognosis, she spent the next year fearing what was to come. By mid-2016, Amy realized she owed herself a second opinion.
"I had nothing to lose, so I picked up the phone and called Mayo Clinic," she says. That call opened the door to new treatment options and a new way forward for Amy.
After making a 10-hour drive to Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, Amy met with a team of medical professionals that included Amit Merchea, M.D., a colorectal surgeon, and Justin Burns, M.D., a liver surgeon.
"Colorectal cancer is very common in the United States, affecting about 140,000 people annually," Dr. Merchea says. "It's a disease where we've had dramatic improvement in terms of overall survival. And with surgical intervention, most patients can achieve a cure."
"They made no promises, but they gave me hope," Amy says. And after some additional testing, she returned to Kentucky while her care team developed a plan to manage her disease.
"The multidisciplinary approach of Mayo Clinic allows us to help patients like Amy with complex tumors in her colon and liver," Dr. Merchea says. "Despite what she was told elsewhere, we felt we could remove the tumors and offer her a better chance at long-term survival."
Amy was on her way to an outing with friends when she got a call from Dr. Merchea. "As soon as he said, 'We can do this', I just started crying," she says.
"It's common for people to be told that there is nothing surgically that can be done for them in both colon cancer and liver cancer," Dr. Burns says. "Fortunately, surgical techniques have evolved so that we can be more aggressive and can take out more cancer."
On Nov. 10, 2016, Drs. Merchea and Burns worked together to remove the cancer from Amy's body. "In a single operation, we were able to remove the affected parts of her colon and liver," Dr. Burns says. "That meant a shorter hospital stay, and a quicker recovery and return to normal life."
After the surgery, Amy continued chemotherapy for a few months before graduating to the status every cancer patient desires: no evidence of disease. After her most recent tests, doctors also told Amy she could decrease her number of follow-up visits to just two a year. "It's a great feeling," she says.
Looking back on her journey, Amy admits that in the early days of her diagnosis, she was just "going through the motions. I was slow to process." Over time, however, she realized how important it was for her to advocate for herself.
"Mayo Clinic empowered me to have control in what was happening to me," she says.
Amy shares that experience with others through an online blog and outreach in her community. "I want others to know it's OK to not just to take the information you're given, but ask questions, do your research and then make decisions that are right for you," she says. Her life now, she says, is a stark contrast to what her doctors originally predicted.
Since her diagnosis, Amy has celebrated two more birthdays, watched her eldest daughter graduate from college, and enjoyed many "everyday moments."
"It's not always about the big milestones," Amy says. "Part of my gratitude to Mayo Clinic is being able to celebrate today. So I'm living in this moment, right now, because I have this moment."
Learn more about Amy's story in this video:
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