Colon Cancer Survivor Shares Story to Give Others Hope
Nancy Safford Westphal may not have been born in St. Petersburg, but she’s about as close to a native as you can get. Her family has been a part of the community for many decades.
Westphal is active in the community with many charities including St. Petersburg Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity Pinellas, SPCA Tampa Bay, St. Anthony’s Hospital Foundation and the hospital’s Auxiliary. She recently was chosen as a princess for the Queen of Hearts Ball for her community service.
She and her husband Steve own several restaurants and also work together to give back to the community through their foundation, the Westphal Family Foundation.
Now, Westphal is giving back in a different way. She’s sharing the story of her fight with colon cancer in the hopes that it will lead others to get screened.
“It’s all about prevention,” she said. “This can happen to anyone so it’s important to get tested.”
June is Cancer Survivors Month, a time when cancer survivors celebrate their success while sharing their stories to give hope to all of those who are facing a cancer diagnosis.
‘I thought that must be a mistake'
Before her diagnosis, Westphal, who is also a Realtor, said she didn’t feel sick. “I felt great,” she said. “I’m active with tennis and swimming and golf and all the wonderful things here. Very rarely do I get sick.”
During her annual physical at St. Anthony’s in 2021, her primary care physician told her to take an at-home colon cancer screening tool. That came back negative. When her annual physical rolled around again in 2022, her doctor again told her to take the at-home screening test again.
Everything changed this time. The results were positive.
“I thought that must be a mistake because I feel fantastic. There’s just no way,” Westphal said. “There hasn’t been any history of colon cancer in my family, so I didn’t really think I was a prospect for that.”
Excluding some types of skin cancer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States.
The American Cancer Society estimates that colorectal cancer will kill more than 52,500 people in the United States this year. And the organization estimates that nearly 107,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed, while a little over 46,000 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed this year.
Westphal’s doctor told her to quickly get a colonoscopy, a procedure that allows a doctor to examine the large bowel which includes the colon and rectum.
“My first thought following the diagnosis was that hopefully this is caught early enough and (I can) get this taken care of and not need any treatment,” Westphal said. “But if I do need treatment, I will be able to be in the best of care right here at St. Anthony’s.”
Westphal was referred to surgeon Kevin Huguet, MD, who is part of BayCare Physician Partners and has performed this type of surgery countless times. “When I met Nancy back in November 2022, she’d undergone a screening colonoscopy which revealed an early stage of colon cancer,” Dr. Huguet said. “Colon cancer is a disease that’s very treatable if you catch it at an early stage.”
The surgery was scheduled within two weeks. “Dr. Huguet … let me know every step what was going to take place,” Westphal said. “Recovery would be at St. Anthony’s for just a few days. It really was the best care I could imagine. It was even better than I expected. From the surgery to the recovery, everything was just fantastic and I am ever so grateful.”
Spreading the word to get screened
As she was going through her diagnosis, surgery and recovery, Westphal posted about her journey on social media. “I (wanted) to make people aware that it’s not that difficult to get a colonoscopy and it (colon cancer diagnosis) can happen to anyone,” she said. “I would say out of the few thousand people that looked at that, at least 150 people reached out to me to say, ’Thank you for reminding me to go get my colonoscopy.’”
About a handful of people needed surgery, she said. “They caught it early enough. Some did have to have treatment after surgery but they are okay.”
“The importance of your screening studies can’t be overstated when you reach the appropriate age,” Dr. Huguet said. “Catching the colon or rectal cancer early makes a huge difference in a patient’s survival.”
Because the cancer was diagnosed early and removed through surgery, Westphal did not need any additional treatment after surgery. “And really and truly, a colonoscopy could not be more important for prevention of colon cancer,” she said. “I can’t stress enough how important it is. And not to put it off. It means everything to living a healthy life.”
For Westphal, the silver lining has been helping to shine a light on getting screened for colon cancer. And being there for her family. “When I was diagnosed, I immediately thought of my family, my son, my daughter, my grandchildren, my husband and of course, my mom who is 91 years old,” she said. “And I want to be around. I have so much more I want to give.”
For more information on the variety of colon and rectum cancer services BayCare offers, visit BayCareCancer.org.