Cindy Thesing’s official title at the Sparta School District is ‘Nutrition Services Supervisor’ - that means she writes all the menus for the district and procures all the food. But to those who know Cindy, she is also called a survivor of colon cancer.
Cindy clearly remembers the day she was diagnosed while in her office at the school district.
"I got that phone call here in my desk, and [the doctor] said, 'I'm so sorry, you have cancer. The surgeon will be calling, and, good luck.'"
That phone call came a little more than four years ago, and just a few days after her first colonoscopy at age 50. She’d had no symptoms, and no family history of the disease – it came as a complete shock.
"You just move forward. I had swift, quick medical care and followed what the doctor said and went with our treatment plan, and here I am, four years later, a survivor,” Cindy says.
Since then, she returned to work cancer-free, with a new outlook on life.
“You become more humble, you let the little things go.”
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, when doctors and survivors like Cindy remind people of the reality of colon cancer. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country, perhaps because of its tendency to produce no telltale signs in its victims early on - but it's also one of the most preventable, thanks to colon screenings.
Doctors say both men and women should begin getting colonoscopies at age 50, and every 10 years after. People with a family history or higher risk should receive them more often. After Cindy’s experience with colon cancer, she gets screened every three years. She says her six brothers and sisters also are regularly screened, and she has also inspired several of her doctors to undergo the procedure.
If colon cancer is caught early on, treatment is considered successful in nearly 90 percent of cases.
In convincing others to consider the procedure, Cindy talked about her own experience with colonoscopies and addressed the stigma surrounding them.
"People don't need to be afraid, people don't need to be scared. It's easy, and life saving," she says.
More than just the leader of the kitchen in Sparta’s schools, Cindy is a survivor. For the thousands of people across the country who are at risk of colon cancer just in 2014, Cindy’s story of survival is one she hopes others can learn from.
"My story is going to be somebody else's story,” she said. “People shouldn’t think that it doesn’t happen to [them.] Because it can, and it does.”