News from Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center Health & Lifestyles

Patricia “Patsy” Hill, 81, says age is just a number and “you’re only as old as you feel.” Hill has lived a rich life and enjoys spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. After having surgery to remove a cancerous mass from her colon in early 2023, she is living cancer-free.

Earlier this year, the Knoxville resident felt weak and was unable to keep down food and water. She went to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, her hospital of choice, where she knew she would be treated well. A CT scan in the emergency room revealed a mass blocking her colon. After further testing, it turned out to be cancer.

Patricia is grateful that Premier Surgeon Dr, Joseph Thurman was able to successfully remove a cancerous mass from her colon.

“I was surprised to hear I had cancer, but I couldn’t fall apart for my family,” she says. “When you’re sick, you pray to God – you just have to turn it over to Him and then not worry about it.”

Hill was admitted to Fort Sanders Regional in March. She stayed almost a month, first undergoing surgery, followed by rehabilitation in the hospital’s Transitional Care Unit. She had lost a dangerous
amount of weight from not being able to eat or drink, and was very weak. After surgery, her hospital team helped her regain strength through exercises and practicing walking in the hallway.

At Fort Sanders Regional

Hill’s surgeon was Joseph B. Thurman, MD, FACS, of Premier Surgical at Fort Sanders Regional. As a general surgeon, Dr. Thurman treats a wide array of diseases and conditions, including gallbladder disease, hernias and gastrointestinal issues.

He says, “The biopsy showed adenocarcinoma, the most common type of colon cancer. This required a procedure called a left hemicolectomy with diverting ileostomy. That means in addition to removing the part of the colon that contained the cancerous mass, the patient needed an ostomy bag for six weeks to give the colon time to heal and avoid leaking. Then she had the ostomy reversed.”

Dr. Thurman explains the surgery was emergency intervention. “She was hit with several ‘gut-punches’ at the same time. She came to the ER for belly pain, only to find that not only was her colon obstructed, but that it was caused by cancer. We knew that because of the blockage, she would need not only a resection but also the ostomy, and therefore require two surgeries. It’s a lot to process in just a few days.”

After the ostomy reversal procedure in April, Hill has normal GI function, is healing at home and feels great. “I’m an early riser,” she says. “I like to get on with it. I have had to slow down, because even though my scars have healed, Dr. Thurman says my insides are still healing.”

Hill hopes to soon return to being “healthy as a horse” and to get her energy back, living cancer-free.

Compassionate Care

Because she stayed a month as an inpatient and in rehab, Hill got to know many of her caregivers. She says, “The bedside manners couldn’t have been better, especially with Dr. Thurman. I told him I would adopt him and claim him as my son. He is just wonderful.”

She described the nursing staff who brought her coffee and checked on her constantly. She cherishes the souls who cared for her in her weakest moments.

“As a senior citizen, I appreciated the friendliness and willingness to explain things to me,” Hill says.

Dr. Thurman says Hill is the “poster child” for how good health going into surgery can benefit the ultimate outcome. “It makes a difference in recovery at all ages, but especially at her age,” he says. “Ms. Hill is an active 81-year-old and was motivated and engaged with her recovery. She had a great attitude throughout everything. She did fantastic, recovered extremely well and has a good long-term prognosis.”

A Lesson for Others

Hill says, “I bet this [cancerous mass] would have shown on a colonoscopy, but I haven’t had one. If this story helps just one person do the screening, it will be worth it – because it could save a life.”

Dr. Thurman concurs. “This is an example of why you should get a screening colonoscopy,” Dr. Thurman says. “This patient was a non-smoker, followed a healthy diet, was doing all the right things, and still got colon cancer. It’s a lesson to keep up with your health and to get those screenings.”

He recommends adults start getting colonoscopies at age 45 as recommended by the latest guidelines if there is no family history of colon cancer, and sooner for higher-risk individuals. Always check with your primary care physician for advice on cancer screenings.

Dr. Joe Thurman is a general surgeon with the Premier Surgical Associates office at Fort Sanders Regional in Knoxville. To learn more about colon cancer treatment visit