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When the Caregiver Needs Care: Early Detection Helped Woman Beat Colorectal Cancer
March 11, 2024

Crystal Hunter of Bethlehem celebrates with her grandchildren

Crystal Hunter, a bubbly person with an infectious personality, is a leader in her family. In 2021 when her very first colonoscopy discovered that she had colon cancer, she was understandably shocked.

“I was always the strong one in the family,” she said. “I’m a go-getter, the one who gets things done. I’m the one who takes care of people. The hardest part of having the cancer was my self-identity, because suddenly I was the one who needed someone to help care for me.”

St. Luke’s is a regional leader in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer with a dedicated, compassionate team of gastroenterologists, surgeons and cancer specialists committed to providing high quality care and advanced treatment options.

Crystal, 49 at the time, chose St. Luke’s gastroenterologist Caitlin Foley, MD, for that colonoscopy.

Crystal had the cancer surgically removed and was treated with chemotherapy. Colonoscopies since then show her to be cancer-free.

“We can cure it,” Dr. Foley said of colorectal cancer. “Sometimes we can cure it with surgery, sometimes we must cure it with surgery and chemotherapy or radiation, but we know if we catch it early, we can cure it. That’s why it is so important to get screened and not ignore any potential symptoms.”

Crystal almost ignored her symptoms. She took iron supplements for a mild case of iron deficiency and experienced constipation that she chalked up to taking the iron supplements and not drinking enough water. But then she experienced rectal bleeding, and reported it to her primary care physician, who recommended the colonoscopy.

After her recovery, Crystal noticed that some other aches and pains she described as stomach issues simply disappeared.

“The biggest thing I would tell people is to take an active part in your healthcare,” she said. “Be candid with your physician. Something you may not think is important may be a sign of a bigger problem. Dr. Foley was wonderful with me, and she pulled out information about me that I barely thought about. She allowed me to be myself. Even after my colonoscopy when the diagnosis came back, she was mindful of and attentive to my response. Her bedside manner is commendable.”

Crystal lives in Bethlehem, but works at a school in East Orange, N.J. She has three children, seven grandchildren, and is raising two of the grandchildren. The entire time she battled through cancer, she pushed herself to take her grandchildren to and from the school bus stop, but says she is now mobile without fatigue and can run up and down the stairs like a two-year-old.

"Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that we can prevent from developing into a more serious form,” Dr. Foley said. “It’s the reason we recommend colon cancer screenings. Colon cancer starts as a pre-cancerous polyp called an adenoma, and we can find them when they are very small and remove them during a colonoscopy so that they don’t get a chance to grow into cancer.”

Dr. Foley praised Crystal’s outlook and enthusiasm to not just deal with the cancer, but to reach back and help others.

“It’s amazing how passionate she’s been with giving back from the experience, willing to help other people and raise awareness to get a colonoscopy for a screening to help prevent colon cancer.”