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It was the summer of 2009 and I was only 21 years old…

My mother, who was in her 50’s at the time, went to see her doctor for a routine colonoscopy. As my mother and I are extremely close, I decided to come to the appointment with her for moral support. Soon after, the doctor asked us to come in for the results.

Sitting in the doctor’s office, I remember feeling worried and anxious about my mother, hoping that it was nothing serious. As we were listening to the doctor, I recall him asking my mother about symptoms she might be experiencing. To my surprise, I also was experiencing some of them and decided to speak up. Being an attentive doctor, he turned his attention from my mother to me and began asking me the same questions.

He concluded by sending my mother for additional tests and sending me to do a colonoscopy – my first at only 21. Weeks later, results came in: My mother and I had a similar pattern of polyps in the colon and we knew it was genetic. The doctor insisted right away that the whole family get tested: my father, my 3 brothers, my aunts and uncles… basically everyone. Results showed no pattern in any extended family, but 2 out of 3 of my siblings were also affected. Now you may be wondering: What is going on with this family? We found out after some research and additional testing that my family is a carrier of the FAP gene. These types of polyps (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis) are aggressive and unless you remove your colon, these polyps will become malignant (cancerous). At the time I was 21 years old, my brother Gabriel was 18, and Samuel, my older brother, was 27. In order to prevent cancer, we, as well as my mother, had to undergo a full colorectal surgery.

We all had our colons removed, followed by 6 months of living with a stool bag. A second surgery was necessary to remove the bag and reconstruct. It was awful – my whole family was sick at the same time. Soon after I came in for my first surgery, my mother had her second surgery and my brothers would be in for their first. We all overlapped and there was never a day where one of us was not in the hospital recovering from a surgery, infection, or what not.

Though it felt like a nightmare, fortunately, the very worst was prevented. If I hadn’t spoken up at that appointment, polyps could have spread and who knows what my family’s fate would be today. Remember that cancer is blind and can happen when you least expect it! Although my mother and I had similar symptoms, my brothers did not! Ten years later, we are all doing very well. We live a very normal and active life with no symptoms. Thank GOD.

I am extremely grateful for the care I received at The Jewish General Hospital to our late surgeon, Dr. Gordon, and to our amazing and beautiful current gastroenterologist, Dr. Galiatsatos. Without them, who knows if we would still be here today…

When my surgeon initially revealed that I was going to undergo the same surgery as my mom, I remember asking him if I was going to have a scar. He laughed at me. He said, “Is that what you care about?!!!” I look back now and understand what he meant.

Gurvinder Garcha, Cancer Survivor

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