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Patient Stories

Linda: Gastrointestinal Cancer Survivor

Linda Poindexter
When Linda Poindexter’s employer started a wellness program in 2015 that required employees to undergo certain screening tests, Linda happily participated, having no concerns for her health. Up until that point she had not felt the need for a mammogram or colonoscopy, as she was otherwise healthy and had no signs that anything was wrong. In her fast-paced job she had always stayed on top of things and had no family history of cancer that she knew of. Then, very quickly, that all changed when a large mass was found during her colonoscopy and she was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. 

“I kept thinking, ‘this can’t be happening.’ I was in good shape, always took care of myself, and felt totally fine, I was in disbelief,” said Linda. “Disbelief and also afraid of what was to come. It all happened so fast and my life was changed in that instant. The doctor that performed my colonoscopy, Michael P. Dorfman, MD (Gastroenterology), was so caring and concerned when he referred me to my surgeon.” 

Linda was immediately put in touch with a surgeon and more testing including CAT Scans and MRIs were done. Her surgeon, Vikram Reddy, MD, PhD, MBA, Associate Professor of Surgery (Colon and Rectal), and Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, suggested trying to shrink the tumor before surgery to lessen the severity. He referred her to medical oncologist Wajih Kidwai, MD, FACP, and radiation oncologist Susan Higgins, MD. For four months Linda took an oral chemotherapy and received radiation and after a month of recovery, she was scheduled for surgery. Going into the nine hour-plus surgery, Linda was confident in her care team. “Dr. Reddy explained everything to me ahead of time and assured me that he would be overseeing everything in the operating room. He put me at ease and I trusted him completely.”  

Following the surgery, a port was placed so that another round of chemotherapy could be administered over six months to kill any remaining or ‘rouge’ cancer cells. Once a week Linda would travel to the Smilow Cancer Hospital in Guilford for treatment, often accompanied by her supportive family members. While receiving chemotherapy, she met many other patients that were on a similar journey and tried to make their days brighter when she could. 

Dr. Wajih Kidwai, an Associate Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine (Medical Oncology) and Medical Director of Smilow Cancer Hospital in Guilford, commented, “Linda is a wonderful person with a very supportive husband and family that helped her when she went through some difficult times during and after treatment. Her inner strength and determination were an inspiration not only to those that cared for her, but other patients as well. On every visit we always had great conversations sometimes mixed with humor. I wish her all the best for a long and happy life.”

“Dr. Kidwai is awesome and I am so thankful to have been referred to him. This round of chemo took its toll and totally wiped me out. I suffered from brain fog, and became very emotional. My nurse, Cheryl Z. Levesque (Infusion Nurse), was wonderful and was always there for me; she is like family now,” said Linda. “Suffering from brain fog was very difficult, as I relied heavily on my quick brain for my work. At first I hid and didn’t want people to see me, but now I embrace the new me and what I have been through. It was a chance for me to slow down, and I ended up taking an early retirement which allowed me to be there for my mom, when she got sick. This has been a very humbling experience.”  

Linda suffered from severe neuropathy following the chemotherapy, but a performer and music lover at heart, Linda could not pass up the chance to attend a Jazz festival in Boston in 2017, when she was still not feeling like herself. She explained that going to the festival was her first step back into normalcy where she realized she could do things again, and did not need to hide away. From there she started to slowly build her strength back with the help of her husband and two daughters, who would walk with her around a track three times a week.  

Her recovery was slow, but Linda has learned that everyone reacts differently to cancer and the treatment. She never lost her hair, but still has lingering neuropathy and low white blood cell counts. Her advice to everyone is to go get checked; don’t wait until something is wrong. She convinced all three of her children to get their annual screenings, and even had her first mammogram! 

“I want to share my story with others so that they don’t have to experience what I did. I am still not sure ‘why me?’ but now my mission is to make sure others feel joy and are happy. I want to spend time with my grandchildren and have family gatherings at my house again. Thanks to my family and loving doctors, this is all possible and I can smile again.”