Long Beach resident tells story of facing down cancer at Mount Sinai hospital


In an effort to raise awareness of colorectal cancer and underscore the importance of early detection, Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside hosted a seminar on March 6, featuring medical experts and a survivor.

The event provided valuable insights into the significance of regular screenings and featured a tour through a 10-foot-high inflatable, interactive colon to raise awareness of colorectal cancer. Doctors were able to walk through the colon, which depicted different stages of the intestine’s lining.

Dr. Frank Gress, the hospital’s chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology, and Dr. Dean Pappas, its chief of colon and rectal surgery, delivered insightful presentations emphasizing the critical role of screenings in detecting this type of cancer. According to the National Library of Medicine women have a higher age-adjusted 5-year relative survival rate of about 65 percent compared to about 62 percent for men. According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and women in the United States.

“Unfortunately, we’re finding colon cancer in younger and younger people,” Pappas said. “We don’t know why, and there are different theories as to why, but we’re seeing patients in their 30s and 40s with rectal cancer. That’s why we’re trying to hammer home the point that if you see any blood in your stool, don’t just assume it’s x, y, or z. Come in and get checked out.”

The doctors stressed that while the recommended age for screenings has traditionally been 50, recent trends indicate a rise in cases among younger individuals, prompting a shift towards earlier screening protocols. Gress highlighted common symptoms such as lower abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding and unexplained weight loss, urging those who attended the seminar not to ignore these warning signs.

During the session, participants posed several questions, including how frequently an individual should be screened, the accuracy of different screening methods, and the role of lifestyle factors in preventing colorectal cancer.

Dr. Pappas addressed concerns about the discomfort associated with colonoscopies, emphasizing the importance of patient education and the availability of less invasive options such as the Cologuard test. A cologuard is a screening test for colon and rectal cancer. After you collect your stool sample, the collection kit will be delivered to a lab to test the sample. Gress shot down common myths and encouraged individuals to prioritize their health by overcoming apprehensions about screenings.

“I think it’s about education,” Gress said. “The education piece is really important. We explain exactly what the procedure is. What’s involved with it? Patients tend to hear things about colonoscopies from their friends, or they read something and they get a horror story in some cases, but, who knows whether that is magnified, or what the bottom line is people get scared. The goal really for us as physicians is to educate, to explain the options, and to recommend what we think is the right thing and the best thing to do.”

Long Beach resident Miranda Steiger, 57, a survivor of stage II colon cancer, shared her story, offering a firsthand account of her diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Steiger was 54 when she had her first colonoscopy and discovered her cancer. She has been cancer-free for the past few years. She recounted undergoing a routine colonoscopy, which led to the detection of cancerous lesions. Despite initial fears, Steiger underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, ultimately emerging victorious in her battle against the disease.

“It was not what you think when we think of radiation and chemotherapy,” she said. “I was able to continue to work and do my life. There are some side effects and mine was in the summer when I had cold sensitivity. But it’s very short-lived. I had my own room in the hospital. I was well looked-after, and then they sent you home.”

Both Dr. Gress and Dr. Pappas emphasized the accessibility of various screening methods, including colonoscopies, Cologuard tests and virtual colonoscopies, catering to individual preferences and medical needs. Dr. Pappas emphasized the need for patient advocacy and encouraged those in attendance to seek guidance from trusted sources rather than relying on Internet searches.

“The greatest place to be is the recovery room in an endoscopy center,” Pappas said. “Everyone is happy. The education component is so critical that patients come in. They think they’re going to have this invasive procedure, and it turns out it’s a quick procedure, and you need it every 10 years and you won’t get colon cancer. If they don’t want to deal with it, then we get into the Cologuard, or there are other types of tests, much less effective, but at least it’s better than nothing.”

The event underscored the hospital’s commitment to promoting community wellness and fighting colorectal cancer by empowering individuals with knowledge and encouraging proactive healthcare practices.

“Ask somebody who’s been through it,” Steiger said. “Once I was diagnosed, I never Googled anything because I knew it was gonna send me to fear and inaccurate information. Just ask somebody you know who’s been through it, and they’ll tell you. You’ll feel better about yourself when it’s over.”