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Rectal Cancer Surgery Gets Eileen Back to her Magical Life

Life’s been one big adventure Eileen Giammona. So when a colonoscopy revealed rectal cancer, the Virtua team made sure it wouldn’t slow her down.

Eileen G. , Virtua patient and cancer survivor
Updated February 28, 2023

For Eileen Giammona, life has been one big adventure. Side by side with her husband Salvatore, she’s been a flight navigator, a magician’s assistant and a ski instructor.

So when a colonoscopy revealed rectal cancer, she wasn’t about to let it slow her down.

“There was blood in my stool. I just didn’t say anything. Sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn’t. ‘No big deal,’ is what I thought,” said Eileen, 80, of Medford. “I had no idea it was going to be cancer.”

While her journey wasn’t easy, thanks to the care received at Virtua, Eileen is back to enjoying life.

What Is Rectal Cancer?

Rectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the rectum, a part of your large intestine located between your colon and anus. It can be found early, when it’s most successfully treated, during a colonoscopy.

Symptoms of rectal cancer may not be noticeable until it is more advanced. As the disease progresses, you may experience:

  • A change in your bowel habits, such as frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Narrow stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Multidisciplinary Approach to Cancer Care

Eileen began her treatment with chemotherapy and radiation to decrease the size of the tumor. In October 2021, she had abdominoperineal resection (APR) surgery with the da Vinci robotic surgical system at Virtua Voorhees Hospital.

Virtua recently earned recognition from the American College of Surgeons’ National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer. Virtua is one of only 50 programs in the U.S. to qualify for this prestigious accreditation, which recognizes rigorous standards for clinical services, safety, and quality in treating rectal cancer.

“Robot-assisted surgery for rectal cancer improves our ability to work in the tight area of the pelvis,” said Keith Meslin, MD, FACS, FASCRS, Virtua chief of colorectal surgery. “It offers more precision and is a great advance over open and traditional laparoscopic surgery.”

During the surgery, a small incision is made in the pelvis. The rectum, anus and surrounding lymph nodes are removed.

Due to the location of the tumor, Eileen needed a colostomy. This is a procedure that brings the end of the colon through an opening in the abdominal wall. Fecal matter passes out of the body into a replaceable bag.

After a stay in the hospital, Eileen continued her recovery at a rehabilitation facility.

“After the operation, it wasn’t comfortable to sit. That was the hardest part. It look a long time to heal,” she said.

Returning to the Activities She Loves

Fortunately, neighbors, ski buddies, and her medical team were nearby to buoy Eileen’s spirits.

“The people in the hospital were amazing, and going to Dr. Meslin’s office, everyone knows you,” she said. “They are such nice people.”

Eileen said she is exercising to regain muscle mass and is able to clean the house, garden, and take care of the doves she and her late husband raised for their magic act. She hopes to get back to skiing regularly again.

“I’m healed and getting on with whatever is next,” she said. “It’s been a really good life, even with the cancer.”

Add Colonoscopy to Your Health To-Do List

A colonoscopy is the best way to detect cancer at an early and more treatable stage, and to prevent colorectal cancer by removing precancerous polyps. If you are 45 or older, schedule your colonoscopy today.