For the media

Shared diagnosis leads to loss, hope and healing

By The Health News Team | May 6, 2024
Art Campos of San Diego

After losing his wife to colorectal cancer, Art was faced with the same diagnosis.

At the age of 18, Arthur “Art” Campos was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis — an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine. Experts estimate about one million Americans are living with the illness. Common symptoms include diarrhea, bowel urgency, bloody stool and abdominal pain.

Like many with this condition, Art experienced periods of remission punctuated by sudden flare-ups of symptoms. Despite short-term relief with steroid medications, he remained vulnerable to recurrences.

“That really changed when I met my wife, Tasa, when I was 31,” Art says. “She encouraged me to start taking it more seriously and manage it better.”

Finding freedom from flare-ups

As Art and Tasa both knew, IBD increases the risk of colorectal cancer, also known as bowel, colon or rectal cancer. Having control of flare-ups and regular screenings for colorectal cancer can help reduce this risk.

Art took action and began working with his gastroenterology care team at Sharp Rees-Stealy. “I tried many different medications over the years,” Art says. “Some worked for a while — others didn’t work at all.”

Art also had regular colonoscopies to help his gastroenterologist, Dr. Alissa Speziale, monitor his inflammation and determine which treatments were working. He says it was a relief when they finally found a medication that was effective and kept his flare-ups at bay.

Two unexpected diagnoses

Just when Art’s health condition seemed to be under control, the health of a loved one took a sudden turn. His wife, Tasa, received a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver. A year and a half later, the mother of two passed away.

Tragically, this wasn’t the end of the family’s battle with cancer. Four months after losing his wife, Art received a cancer diagnosis.

The devastating news came after Dr. Speziale noticed something abnormal during a colonoscopy. A biopsy confirmed the 52-year-old had Stage 1 colorectal cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early enough to have a good prognosis.

The journey to good health

Dr. Speziale referred him to Dr. Pamela Lee, a Sharp Rees-Stealy surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. Art had robotic-assisted J-pouch surgery, also known as proctocolectomy with ileal pouch-anal anastomosis. During the intricate procedure, surgeons remove the colon and rectum but leave the anus. Then, a portion of the small intestine is reconfigured into a J-shaped pouch to help waste pass through the anus.

Art’s surgery was a success. Not only did it eradicate his cancer, the removal of his colon also provided a definitive cure for his ulcerative colitis.

Hope and healing

Now four years cancer-free, Art maintains a positive outlook and is grateful for the timely intervention of his medical team. “I thank Dr. Speziale for finding the cancer when she did, and I’m so glad the surgery with Dr. Lee went well,” he says.

Art also appreciates the bereavement support he received through Sharp HospiceCare after his wife passed. It allowed him to navigate the loss and grief he was grappling with.

“The support groups allowed me to meet, connect and talk with other people going through a similar situation,” he says. “It was extremely helpful.”

Art still sees Dr. Speziale for a checkup once a year to make sure his cancer hasn’t returned. He has been cancer- and ulcerative colitis-free since 2020.

He’s living proof, he says, that when caught early through preventive screenings, colorectal cancer can be cured. “When my friends tell me they’re due for their first colorectal cancer screening, I remind them how important it is,” Art says.

It’s a piece of cake, he adds, and it could save your life.

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