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Mary Lou Decker

A second lease on life

Mary Lou Decker was always careful to follow her primary care physician’s advice, testing herself for the possibility of colon cancer regularly and delivering the test strips to the doctor for analysis. She had reason to be vigilant. Her brother died of cancer at the age of 49. Also, Mary Lou is a long-time volunteer for Hospice Care of the Berkshires, and has helped many cancer patients and their families through very difficult times.

In 1997, Mary Lou received the response she hoped would never come – a positive test for blood – and a need to get a colonoscopy right away to determine the cause. “I hated doing the home testing, but my husband kept telling to do it, and he was right,” she said. “I felt perfectly healthy at the time.”

Dr. Arthur Wasser performed her colonoscopy at Berkshire Medical Center’s Endoscopy Unit, and his early detection of colon cancer through the exam gave Mary Lou a second lease on life. Mary Lou underwent chemotherapy and is now in complete remission. She has since had additional colonoscopies at the BMC Endoscopy Unit, to screen for any potential return of the cancer.

“I’ve never minded the screenings at all,” she said, a tribute to the professionalism of the physicians and nursing staff in the Unit. “The nurses are wonderful. They make you feel so relaxed, and they explain everything. I’ve never worried at all in their hands.”

For Mary Lou Decker, getting the word out and taking action to prevent colon cancer through regular screening has become a family mission. “I convinced my husband to get a colonoscopy, as his father died of cancer,” she said. Because of Mary Lou’s positive cancer diagnosis, and the family history on her husband’s side, she also stressed the importance of colonoscopy to her children.

“All three of my daughters have had colonoscopies, and all are fine,” she said. Her daughters had their tests well before their 50th birthdays, the standard date when colonoscopy is recommended as a screening.

Mary Lou quite possibly saved her own life by testing herself for the possibility of colon cancer, and then having a colonoscopy – even though she had no symptoms. “I felt great when I was diagnosed,” she said. “By the time you start feeling badly, it’s often too late.”

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