Wenora Johnson: Diagnosis of Precancerous Polyps After Pandemic-Related Delay in Colonoscopy

Age: 55Joliet, Illinois

Wenora Johnson, 55, knows the importance of routine cancer screening and preventive measures all too well. Wenora, who lives in Joliet, Illinois, has Lynch syndrome, an inherited condition that predisposes her to certain types of cancer. So, while missed or delayed cancer screenings caused by the pandemic were problematic for many, the four-month delay for Wenora was potentially life-threatening.

In the past, Wenora’s colonoscopies, while important annual checkups because of her Lynch syndrome, had not found anything.

“This was different. It came back with three precancerous polyps,” she said. “It really brought home to me the effects of what COVID has done. It made me realize just how important these scans are—they’re lifesaving for me.”

Wenora was first diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2011, and then, after genetic testing, with Lynch syndrome. Then, she was diagnosed with early-stage endometrial cancer when, in consultation with her health care team, Wenora opted for a hysterectomy as a preventive measure to reduce her chances of cancer.

“That was really a wake-up call that I cannot take for granted this Lynch syndrome diagnosis,” she said. “There are some days I feel like I’m living on borrowed time because I don’t know when the next cancer is going to rear its ugly head. But at the same time, I have this comfort of knowing that I’m being proactive by continuing to get screened for cancer every six months.

“Another important thing that I’ve shared with my family, especially my two young-adult children, is that it’s so important to stay on top of it. It’s lifesaving,” she added.

Since her initial diagnosis of colorectal cancer, and in addition to the endometrial cancer, Wenora has been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Being diagnosed with three different types of cancer within a decade led Wenora to become strong advocate for genetic testing and routine cancer screening.

“For me, genetic counseling that follows a genetic test will help you determine what changes you need to make in your life,” she said.

Wenora’s approach to being vigilant about cancer screening extended to implementing preventive measures during the pandemic. She is extremely careful to follow the recommendations of her health care team—washing hands, minimizing unnecessary contact with others, and masking up.

And she found that she loved the electronic portal she used to communicate with her health care team. The portal has become a powerful tool that enables her to keep up with her reminders, not only for her regular cancer screenings, but also for vaccination against influenza and now, COVID-19.

She has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and feels that it will minimize her risk and is an important part of her heath care regimen.

“I encourage others to do the same, especially if you have a compromised immune system. And if you suffer from cancer, that’s one less worry,” Wenora said.

She is thankful that she was on maintenance anticancer treatment and regular surveillance for cancer. Ever since her diagnosis of Lynch syndrome, the importance of cancer research and federal funding of that research has become personal for Wenora.

“Research is coming up with new and innovative ways to treat cancer. It’s important because my children have a 50 percent chance of getting Lynch syndrome and then passing it on to their children. So, it’s so imperative that the future is bright,” Wenora emphasized.