Cancer. The word itself is scary. Many wonder how to move forward or what they should do after a confirmed diagnosis. But a Sharp HealthCare employee who’s faced colon cancer feels the illness doesn’t always have to be frightening.
Respiratory therapist Malcolm Scott-Telford has worked at Sharp since 2012. A year earlier, Malcolm went to the emergency room at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where, after an examination, he learned he had a complete blockage in his colon. Doctors placed a stent (hollow tube) in Malcolm’s colon to expand it and relieve the swelling.
Two weeks later, Dr. Shawn Bench, a general surgeon affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group and Sharp Memorial, removed part of Malcolm’s colon. Soon after, Malcolm — who was only in his 40s — learned he had cancerous cells in his lymph nodes. He was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, and promptly began chemotherapy.
To maintain a positive outlook, Malcolm spent his time outdoors. “I would drive down to Pacific Beach every day that I could and ride my bike along the boardwalk,” he says.
His health began to improve slowly and remained steady until 2015, when Malcolm experienced stomach issues and heartburn. He received an endoscopy — a procedure that uses a long, thin tube with a tiny camera attached to see inside the body — and doctors discovered a growth in his bile duct. Malcolm continued to work but in 2017, he learned his colon cancer had spread to his liver. Dr. Robert Barone, a surgical oncologist affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, performed surgery on Malcolm’s liver.
Malcolm was in a unique position: he was used to serving patients as a Sharp employee, but now he was receiving treatment as a patient himself.
“The doctors and care providers at Sharp really care about people. They do the right thing to help patients. Our job is not about money — it’s about helping people get back to their best health. That’s why we do it,” says Malcolm.
Since the liver surgery, Malcolm has been feeling well and his cancer is in remission. He was pleased with his entire care team, which included Dr. Charles Redfern, a hematologist-oncologist at Sharp Memorial.
“Malcolm is just an amazing person,” says Dr. Redfern. “He had colon cancer at a young age and went through multiple treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy. Despite the ups and downs of his treatments, he worked full time as a respiratory therapist at Sharp Memorial Hospital. His dedication is inspiring.”
Along with a great clinical staff, Malcolm says mental health played a pivotal role during his treatment.
“You need to find a purpose,” he says. “You’re going to have good days and bad days. You have to make yourself happy with what you’re doing, and it can be a small thing. Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep, I would play Sudoku at night.”
Dr. Redfern agrees that having a purpose — and support — are important factors that can help patients manage all that comes with a cancer diagnosis. “One of the best things about cancer treatment at Sharp is the holistic approach to care. We provide everything from support groups and nurse navigators to art therapy and education classes,” he says. “We also have dedicated social workers that provide clinical counseling — all designed to help our patients and their families through the treatment process.”
Malcolm also says that finding a network of people facing similar diagnoses helped him endure treatment. “There’s a group called Colon Cancer Survivors and Warriors on Facebook with people all over the country,” he says. “Friends and family can empathize, but it can be hard for them to relate if they haven’t had cancer before.”
Today, you can find Malcolm still working at Sharp Memorial. As a respiratory therapist, his role was critical in taking care of patients with COVID-19. Every 6 months, he goes for a checkup that includes an MRI, X-rays and lab tests.
“I built a routine from having cancer, but it’s not related to cancer,” he says. “My peacetime is walking my dog in the morning. I want people to know that living well with cancer is possible.”
Colorectal cancer is highly treatable when caught early with screening. Learn more about how you can reduce your risk and schedule a screening.