Dr. Connie Pennington: "The Heart of Prevention is Education"

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Be Seen, Get Screened's Physician Spotlight Q&A series highlights the work of health care professionals on the front line in the fight against colon cancer. In our latest Q&A, we talked to Dr. Connie Pennington, a colorectal surgeon at Colon & Rectal Surgery Consultants in Johnson City, TN. Dr. Pennington brings a unique holistic healing approach to her practice - here's what she had to say about colon cancer and colon cancer screening.

Image: Dr. Pennington poses with fellow Endoscopy Team colleagues

Be Seen, Get Screened: Can you tell us a bit about your professional background, specifically your experience with colon cancer and colon cancer screening?

Dr. Pennington: I have spent the last 14 years as a colorectal surgeon removing colon cancers. A significant number of these cancers would not have occurred if a screening examination had been done.

BSGS: You focus on integrative medicine along with colorectal surgery. Can you tell us about this unique element of your practice?

Dr. Pennington: Integrative Medicine focuses on all aspects of healing in mind, body, and spirit. It combines traditional western medicine with alternative healing modalities and truly offers the best of both worlds.

I hold a Masters in Divinity; have completed an Integrative Medicine fellowship with the University of Arizona under Dr. Andrew Weil, MD; and became a Yoga Instructor under Dr. Deepak Chopra, M.D.

I feel that all healing is spiritual healing on some level and that each person has the divine inheritance to intrinsically heal on all levels. I am passionate about teasing out the healing power within all people.

BSGS: How do you think Integrative Medicine benefits your patients?

Dr. Pennington: I educate patients in the prevention of cancer; being a recurrence, or the prevention of a primary colon cancer. A holistic approach includes instruction on a whole-food plant based diet, appropriate use of supplements and herbs, regular exercise, and stress reduction.

The American Lifestyle along with the Standard American Diet often leads to poor health at an early age. I counsel and empower people to make an internal change by adopting lifestyle choices that promote healing and prevent diseases from occurring or recurring. It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

BSGS: Why do you think it’s important for people to be educated about the known risk factors and screening options for colorectal cancer?

Dr. Pennington: The heart of prevention is education. I believe patients are more likely to be seen and get screened when they are partnered with a physician who takes the time to examine all screening options and choose the one that best fits their current situation.

Many people fear colonoscopies and that fear can be overcome with accurate information, compassion, and choosing the best examination for their situation. No one should be forced to do something when it causes anxiety and fear. Cologuard takes the fear out of screening the colon!

BSGS: What advice do you give to patients who want to reduce their cancer risk and prevent chronic diseases?

Dr. Pennington: 

  • Smoking cessation
  • Consume a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise routinely
  • Limit exposure to processed foods and preservatives
  • Limit exposure to hidden carcinogens in your environment, like chemicals in personal care products
  • Devote time each day to prayer and/or meditation
  • Focus on the divine healing power of love by honoring yourself in all you do, say, and radiate to those around you

BSGS: What kind of objections do you hear from patients who need to have a colonoscopy? How do you respond to these objections and reassure your patient of the importance of the procedure?

Dr. Pennington: The most common concern is the perception that they cannot do the bowel preparation because it will make them sick. I reassure patients that the newer low volume preps are excellent and rarely do people become sick.

The second concern is the anxiety a patient feels the day of the procedure. I utilize prayer with each patient to reduce anxiety and provide reassurance that they are in good hands with the endoscopy team. Prayer calms anxious nerves better than any other modality I have utilized.

BSGS: What is the impact of colorectal cancer screening on surgical outcomes in resections to remove colon or rectal cancer?

Dr. Pennington: Surgery is performed when a lesion is discovered that cannot be removed during endoscopy. It is our goal to discover these lesions in their early stages when they are easier to remove.

BSGS: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Be Seen, Get Screened?

Dr. Pennington: Colorectal surgery practiced through the lens of Integrative Medicine has taught me that the simplest things are the most healing. Good nutrition, adequate exercise, and stress reduction through mind-body medicine.

Laugh and love every day! A healthy lifestyle along with screening practices provided by modern medicine affords us the possibility of extending our disease-free years well into advancing chronological age.

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