July 5, 2021

‘Thankful, grateful, blessed’: Colon cancer survivor hopes to give back

Lynn McFee standing next to several potted plants
Lynn feels very blessed after the whirlwind of an unexpected cancer diagnosis

Madison, Wis. — For someone who runs a two-story clothing store and spends her days running up and down the stairs moving merchandise and helping customers find just the right piece for them, Lynn McFee thought she was the healthiest she’d ever been.

So she was surprised when the result of a blood test came back as less than favorable in the fall of 2019.

“It just sat wrong in the back of my mind,” said McFee, the owner of McFee on Main in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.

So she went to see her doctor – an old friend in Chicago – who asked: “Have you had your colonoscopy?”

She hadn’t, but as someone who diligently got her mammogram every year, which always came back with no issues, McFee thought she was in the clear and additional cancer screening was the furthest thing from her mind.

But with urging from her doctor, she agreed to take a Cologuard test, an at-home method of colon cancer screening. When that result of that test came back as positive, she came to the UW Health Digestive Health Center for a diagnostic colonoscopy. Leading up to that procedure, she thought the first test couldn’t be right.

“I told the doctor, it’s a false positive,” McFee said. “I feel awesome, nothing’s changed, nothing’s weird.”

But the results of the colonoscopy confirmed the Cologuard test result, and the official diagnosis was stage III colon cancer.

“It totally caught me off-guard,” McFee said.

That brought her to the UW Carbone Cancer Center, under the care of surgeon, Elise Lawson, MD, and later, medical oncologist Sam Lubner, MD, McFee was able to have the tumor surgically removed in February 2020, but later had to return to the clinic for chemotherapy to treat the residual cancer that had been found in a lymph node.

As if that wasn’t enough, her chemo treatment began right around the same time she temporarily closed down her store to comply with a state health order aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had just begun to take hold in the United States.

The following months were a whirlwind. She juggled a dozen sessions of chemotherapy while gradually re-opening her store to accommodate summer shoppers. But she also prioritized making time for herself, alongside making lifestyle changes aimed at improving her overall wellness.

As summer wound down, things were looking up. The treatment did its job, and after a follow up CT scan and other lab work, McFee was declared cancer-free in the fall of 2020. “I came through it with flying colors,” she said. “I was just very blessed.”

Later that year, as she created her annual Christmas card, she chose to work the words “thankful, grateful, blessed” into the design. The words resonated with her after a rocky year, but also got her thinking about how she could transform that feeling into something special for her community, while also giving back to those that treated her.

Once the COVID-related shipping and inventory problems ease, McFee hopes to host a fundraising fashion show, featuring models including her 85-year-old mother, her oncology nurse and fellow cancer survivors. The event will stress the importance of colon cancer screening and early detection. As a lifelong advocate for integrative health, McFee says she also plans to stress the importance of taking care of yourself through the process of treatment.

“Healthier living gets you healthier faster,” she said. “There are ways to be the healthiest you can be during treatment for the greater effect of what is being done.”

At the end of the day, McFee says she’s got plenty to be thankful and grateful for – her health, her family and her business, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary this fall, just a week after her one-year cancer-free anniversary.