My Knight Cancer Story: Michelle Barnes

Michelle Barnes and babyMichelle Barnes was a bit more than 20 weeks pregnant when she noticed blood in her stool. At just 29 years old, colon cancer was the last thing on her mind, but she mentioned the blood to her doctor and was referred for a diagnostic colonoscopy near her Medford, Ore., home. The doctors didn’t look far before they found a tumor “the size of a golf ball,” says Michelle.

Surgery was the next step. Because Michelle was pregnant, her doctors referred her to OHSU. After a repeat colonoscopy, she was hospitalized and taken for a colectomy the next day. Her multidisciplinary team included colorectal surgeon Daniel Herzig, M.D., high-risk prenatal specialist Leonardo Pereira, M.D., M.C.R., and an obstetrical anesthesia specialist. “The prenatal team did ultrasound and talked with me about the risks,” Michelle says. “They told me I could go into labor during surgery, but everything just went perfectly. Thank goodness, because my daughter was young enough that she probably wouldn’t have survived.”

In order to reach Michelle’s colon, the surgical team had to keep her pregnant uterus out of the way. “Someone had to hold it during surgery, which lasted a couple of hours,” Michelle says. Fortunately, Michelle’s cancer was Stage I and had not progressed beyond the colon wall. Dr. Herzig was able to remove the section of colon with the tumor and use an end-to-end anastomosis to reconnect Michelle’s colon and avoid a colostomy.

“I was pretty confident,” Michelle says. “The cancer was just something I had to have removed.” As for her nervewracking situation, she says, “Everything happened so quickly I didn’t have time to process it. The OHSU staff was amazing, and I had terrific support from family and friends.” While at OHSU, she had extensive genetic testing, looking at 14 separate genes. All results were negative, so the origin of Michelle’s colon cancer remains something of a mystery.

Although Michelle talked with the medical oncology team before surgery, she did not need chemotherapy because her cancer was Stage I. For the next five years, she will have regular blood tests, colonoscopies and CT scans to make sure her cancer does not return. In August, four months after her cancer surgery, Michelle gave birth to a healthy daughter, delivering as planned at the community hospital in Ashland, Ore. “The pregnancy went well, and I feel pretty much back to normal,” she says. “If you need to have something serious done, OHSU is the place to go.”