Published on July 15, 2013

Nazareth Hospital saves colon cancer patient’s life

Brian Monaghan had colon cancer symptoms he just couldn't ignore.

Brian MonaghanBrian Monaghan knows cancer. As the youngest of nine and part of an even larger extended family, he has seen many family members diagnosed with various types of the disease. Sadly, his mother and sister were among them – both dying from breast cancer. Brian knows cancer, but until May 2012, he didn’t know it would happen to him.

From symptoms to surgery

When Brian started passing blood during bowel movements, he went to see Lee A. Celio, MD, his long-time primary care physician at Nazareth.

“Because of my family history, Dr. Celio had been after me to have a colonoscopy as soon as I turned 40,” says Brian. “I put it off for three years, but after seeing Dr. Celio that day last May, I couldn’t put it off any longer. Dr. Celio wouldn’t even let me go home. I went straight from the doctor’s office to the hospital for an emergency colonoscopy.”

The colonoscopy revealed a tumor, which was biopsied and found to be cancerous. Surgery followed a few days later. “I just kept thinking about my mom and sister and the nightmare stories I’d heard from other people,” says Brian. “I was scared.”

A tough time made easier

Although all visible signs of the colorectal cancer were removed during surgery, Atrayee Basu Mallick, MD, Brian’s medical oncologist at Nazareth, recommended chemotherapy and radiation to kill any microscopic cancer cells that might remain. “Genetic testing may also be appropriate following treatment for patients diagnosed at a young age – generally considered less than 50,” says Dr. Basu.

“Dr. Basu explained everything and told me to call whenever I had questions,” remembers Brian. “I called with lots of questions, and Dr. Basu always had answers. It really helped to know that I could contact her whenever I needed to.”

Brian also credits his cancer care coordinator at Nazareth with smoothing the way during this difficult time.

Several cycles of chemotherapy followed in the months after surgery, a time Brian describes as “rough,” but made easier by the staff at the infusion lab.

They were awesome,” he says, “really competent and always upbeat. They made a tough situation about as easy as it could be. I just can’t say enough about them.”

Brian received chemotherapy through a port in his chest that was connected to a pump enclosed in what looked like a fanny pack he wore during the chemo cycles.

That way, he was able to continue his job in maintenance with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia while receiving chemo, with no one but his close colleagues the wiser. He also completed 28 sessions of radiation without having to give up his job – Brian would take a break to go for his radiation appointment, then return to finish his work day.

“Brian was a wonderful patient,” says Dr. Basu. “He did everything he was supposed to do during treatment and he always kept an optimistic attitude. That can really help when you’re going through cancer treatment.”
“Some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life”

Although Brian’s cancer journey was not something he would have chosen, it gave him the opportunity to get to know “some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life,” he says of the Mercy staff.

He completed treatment on April 15 of this year and goes for regular checkups now.

His advice to others? “If you have a family history of cancer, get screened when your doctor suggests. Finding it sooner is always better than later.”

Early Screenings Save. If you have a family history of colorectal or other cancers, like Brian does, it’s absolutely vital to know the warning signs and to start early screenings. Nazareth is here to help: For an appointment or a referral to an oncologist, visit or call 1.877.GO MERCY.

Know the symptoms of colorectal cancer

If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor so that he or she can determine the cause. Although colorectal cancer is not the only medical condition that can cause these symptoms, it’s important to determine as soon as possible the reason for these changes.

  • A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, that lasts more than a few days
  • Narrowing of the stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood (bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort such as cramps, gas or bloating that doesn’t go away
  • Feeling that the bowel doesn’t completely empty
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

And remember … regular screening is your best defense against colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin.