Bayhealth patient plays frisbee golf.

A New Outlook after Cancer at Age 35

Cancer Care, All Patient Stories
At 35 years old, Dylan Mich hadn’t been to a doctor since high school. He had always felt relatively healthy and didn’t see the importance of routine medical care at his age. The furthest thing from his mind was a cancer diagnosis.

In summer 2019 Mich started feeling unwell. He didn’t have any energy, was losing weight, and had rectal bleeding. A couple months later he couldn’t ignore his worsening symptoms any longer. A trip to an urgent care clinic turned into a visit to Bayhealth Emergency and Trauma Center, Kent Campus, followed by several scans and a quickly scheduled colonoscopy. He was then referred to Bayhealth Colorectal Surgeon Assar Rather, MD, who told him the news – he had stage 3 rectal cancer.

Fortunately for Mich, a New Jersey native who had moved to Delaware several years prior, he was in the right place to get the specialty care he needed. Bayhealth is among fewer than 50 programs in the U.S., and was the first in Delaware, to be accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer (NAPRC). This means Bayhealth is using advanced techniques and exceeding quality standards for rectal cancer care. And patients can get testing that allows them to start treatment sooner.

“I never liked doctor visits and felt very nervous going into the appointment with Dr. Rather,” said Mich. “But Dr. Rather had a confidence about him. I immediately felt that he was guy to take care of me and help me get through this.”

A key aspect of Bayhealth’s nationally-recognized rectal cancer program is a multidisciplinary team of experts from surgery, pathology, radiology, radiation oncology, and medical oncology. These specialists collaborate to develop a personalized treatment plan for each patient. They continually monitor and oversee the progress through each phase of treatment.

Mich’s care plan involved three months of radiation and chemotherapy at Bayhealth’s Cancer Center, Kent Campus to shrink the tumor in his rectum. This was followed by minimally invasive surgery during which Dr. Rather removed the remaining mass and a portion of his rectum and colon to rid Mich’s body of the cancer.

Dr. Rather also made a surgical opening in Mich’s belly and created a special pouch to eliminate digestive waste outside the body. Called an ileostomy, this procedure is needed when the colon or rectum is healing and can’t be used in the usual digestive path. In Mich’s case, it was a temporary measure that was reversed six months later through a second surgery by Dr. Rather.

“Rectal cancer can be very complicated and going through this at a young age is not easy,” said Dr. Rather. “We expedited Dylan’s care from the start and we all worked together to give him the best possible outcome.”

While rectal cancer in younger ages has been on the rise, it more typically strikes after age 50. The risk factors, which are similar to colon cancer, include family history, existing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), genetic syndromes, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, smoking and tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and a high-fat diet with a lot of red and processed meats.

Since early detection of rectal cancer enables more effective treatment, Dr. Rather advises telling your doctor right away if you have any changes in bowel habits or blood in your stool, weakness or fatigue, abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss.

Mich was impressed by how smooth and seamless his experience was at Bayhealth. A Bayhealth nurse navigator works with office staff to arrange all of a patients’ appointments, treatment sessions and other care needs. He said it was reassuring to have everything handled for him and know that a team member was always accessible if he had questions or concerns. “They made the process so easy. I didn’t have to worry about anything.”

After another round of chemotherapy and ongoing follow-up care at Bayhealth, Mich’s tests show he is now cancer free. His energy level is back to normal. He’s regained the 40 pounds he’d lost when he was sick. And he’s returned to his active lifestyle with regular workouts at the gym.

The experience has changed his perspective on healthcare in a couple ways. “Spending almost a week in the hospital I have a much bigger appreciation for healthcare professionals and the work they do,” said Mich. “I saw how well everyone worked together at Bayhealth—like a well-oiled machine.”

The biggest takeaway is that he no longer takes for granted his health and what is needed to maintain it. This includes having a primary care physician he sees regularly.

“With our NAPRC-accredited rectal cancer program, it’s all about the teamwork to make things better for our patients,” Dr. Rather explained. “As a site of excellence to treat this very complex type of cancer, we’re proud that patients can depend on us for a streamlined and integrated approach that eases the burden on them and their loved ones and provides the highest quality care close to home.”

To learn more about colorectal cancer screenings visit Bayhealth.org/Colorectal-Screening or call Bayhealth Lung and Colorectal Nurse Navigator Trina Turner at 302-744-6831. Visit Bayhealth.org/Cancer for information on all the cancer care offered at Bayhealth.