Dolores Silkworth

Colon Cancer Survivor

Dolores Silkworth was startled to receive a phone call from Thomas McElderry, MD after her early morning blood draw at Methodist Physicians Clinic in Council Bluffs.  “When I asked why he was calling, Dr. McElderry wanted to know how I was feeling, saying he was surprised I felt well enough to work,” Dolores said. “He told me the lab results showed my red blood cell count was very low, and I was severely anemic.” Brushing aside his questions, Dolores insisted she was fine, and they could talk further that afternoon. At the appointment, Dr. McElderry explained the results of her blood work in more detail, emphasizing the urgency to identify the cause of the anemia. Dolores could see the concern in his eyes and hear it in his voice as he repeated, “Dolores, something is very wrong.”

Dr. McElderry arranged for her to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy. With her husband, Jim Terry, at her side, Dolores learned there was a mass in her colon, probably cancerous, which required surgical removal. Dolores began crafting an email to her partners at RDG Planning & Design, the firm where she is a senior partner for parks and recreation as well as urban design. “The basic facts were easy,” Dolores explained. “Today’s colonoscopy found a mass. Surgery will be scheduled ASAP.”

“I figured I could sit around and cry or move ahead with treatment, and I was so glad that Dr. McElderry took charge. He arranged all the appointments I needed through Methodist Jennie Edmundson Cancer Center,” Dolores said. “On Friday, I had a blood transfusion and met my surgeon, Dr. Eric Bendorf, who removed nine inches of my colon on Monday. Later that week, I met my medical oncologist, Dr. Robert Warner.”

The pathology results following surgery confirmed the mass was colon cancer. Fortunately, the cancer had not yet penetrated the colon wall. “They found my cancer on a Thursday and took it out on a Monday, so this was my four-day cancer,” Dolores explained. “I don’t think of myself as having cancer. For me, it’s past tense. I HAD cancer for four days.”

Dolores was eager to get back to her life, putting cancer completely behind her — but first, she wrestled with a decision. “A single lymph node tested positive, so the cancer was at a very early Stage 3,” Dolores explained. “While I was in the hospital, they laid out my options carefully, including the strong recommendation for chemotherapy to prevent the possibility of recurrence.”

“It took half a year to go through chemo,” Dolores said. “I had 12 treatments, each one two weeks after the last.” By Labor Day 2013, Dolores had completed treatment. Looking back, Dolores observed, “The journey isn’t easy, but it’s doable.”

“I decided early on not to keep quiet about cancer. Everybody’s been touched by cancer — everybody,” Dolores explained, “Sharing is helpful and makes it all a little less scary.” She continues to share her story, answering cancer patients’ questions about treatment while offering support and encouragement. Above all, she advocates for cancer screening, especially screening for colon cancer.

“Everyone I work with and all my friends know to see their doctors at age 50, and I’ve made sure each of my three brothers and three sisters has gotten a colonoscopy,” Dolores explained. “I tell people it is so important to catch colon cancer early when you can deal with it easily, so please get your colonoscopy!”