Photos Cameron Flaisch
The idea that those who suffer from colon cancer are inactive, generally unhealthy people is a false assumption. Case in point: Christi Malec. If anyone is an example of responsible self-awareness and a healthy lifestyle, it’s her. Yet she wound up with colon cancer. Fortunately for her, Harbin Clinic was there for her throughout this challenge—healing, helping, encouraging, and guiding her all the way. Her story is a reminder of the vital importance and life-saving power of receiving a colonoscopy.
LIVING A LIFE THAT COUNTS
Christi Malec is the deputy chief of the Marietta Fire Department, and she is well-known as a disciplined, health-conscious individual in her community. She is a wife, mother of two, a grandmother, and an avid tennis player. And she works out with CrossFit. Of her job, Malec says, “It’s been an amazing career. Every day we come to work knowing we get to help people here in the City of Marietta.”
“My husband and I started using Harbin Clinic three or four years ago,” Malec says. When she turned fifty, her doctor handed her a referral to get a colonoscopy. Malec thought to herself, “I don’t need that. I’m okay; there’s no reason I need to do that.” So, she put that physician’s referral in her purse and carried it around for two years before she considered scheduling her appointment.
The morning she finally went in for her procedure, Malec saw a brochure on a table that talked about how important it was to get a colonoscopy if you’re in your fifties. “I still joked about it,” Malec says. “Boy, now I wish I hadn’t done that.” Keeping the atmosphere light that day, the Harbin Clinic doctor said, “We’re going to make sure you look as healthy on the inside as you are on the outside.” Malec grinned at the comment as she fell asleep for the procedure.
AN UNWELCOME SURPRISE
Malec woke up to bad news. Her colonoscopy revealed that a cancerous tumor had breached two of the four walls of her colon, classifying it as stage two cancer. Malec and her husband were stunned at the astonishing diagnosis. To them, it made no sense because she had for so long been the picture of health.\ Describing her surprise, she says, “I had not had a cold in three years. I’ve never had COVID to my knowledge. I had not had a sign or a symptom that told me I had cancer. My husband and I couldn’t believe anything could be wrong, and yet I had probably been walking around with a cancerous tumor for five to seven years. So, I probably had cancer in my late forties and didn’t know it.”
As is often the case with a devastating diagnosis, at first Malec suffered from confusion and disillusionment. “I was at the top of my career,” Malec says. “I had been here over twenty-four years. I had worked so hard—I was now a year and a half from retirement, and I found out I had cancer.” She wondered if she was going to make it.
A GAME PLAN
Harbin Clinic moved quickly on Malec’s behalf. On a Monday, Malec had her colonoscopy. By Wednesday, Harbin Clinic General Surgeon Dr. John Simmons had Malec in his office and had scheduled surgery to remove the tumor the following Tuesday. Malec’s surgery was a clockwork success and, fortunately, she did not need any follow-up chemotherapy or radiation.
Malec’s speedy recovery was a testament to both the skill of Harbin Clinic’s medical team and Malec’s stamina and excellent physical health. Two weeks after her surgery, she was working out and playing tennis again. She says, “I had very little pain.” The day she went back to the Fire Department, she sat in her office wondering, “Did this really happen?”
“I am the biggest proponent of colonoscopies now,” says Malec, “I’m telling everyone, ‘Get your colonoscopy!’ But also, I want people to hear about the quality of care I received from Harbin Clinic.” Christi Malec’s story is an amazing one, but her story begins with a routine and yet life-saving screening. Her story could have had a very different ending. “I was here to welcome my first grandbaby into the world last summer because I finally got my colonoscopy.”
Harbin Clinic encourages its patients who are 45 years of age or older to schedule a colonoscopy as soon as possible. Malec’s cancer journey had a happy ending despite the fact she put her colonoscopy off for two years, but there’s certainly no guarantee that others will be quite so lucky.
“All it took was getting a colonoscopy,” Malec says. “It’s so easy. It saved my life. And now I get to live the second half of my life—which means enjoying my family, looking back on an amazing career, and most importantly, seeing my grandbaby grow up. And I thank God for that every day.”
To learn more visit harbinclinic.com/bottomline.