Mercy Health: Defeating Colorectal Cancer

Mercy Health: Defeating Colorectal Cancer

Rita Stonitsch calls it like she sees it. And when it comes to the colorectal cancer care team at Mercy Health, she sees family.

“If I needed to talk to someone, they were right there — always patient and kind. And they answered my questions in a way that I could understand,” she says. “They treated me like I was a part of their family.” 

That’s exactly how Mercy Health wants patients to feel.

“Patient-centered care is at the heart of what we do,” says Lindsey Bellman, R.N. coordinator for the rectal cancer program. “Every person is different, but everyone has some level of anxiety. We strive to keep communication open and things moving quickly to help ease anxiety and provide excellent care.”  

Stonitsch was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer in 2020. She had concerns and, because her father had rectal cancer and wore a colostomy bag for 35 years, Stonitsch knew it was important to get checked out quickly.

“My doctor referred me to Dr. Cory Barrat at Mercy Health. His office got me in right away and the ball started rolling from there,” she says. “The whole team is great. If I were asked to rate them from one to 10, I’d give them 1,000!”

In the Right Place

The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health Rectal Cancer Program is the only nationally accredited program in Cincinnati, and one of only 40 in the nation recognized by the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer (NAPRC). This distinction signifies the highest level of achievement in multidisciplinary patient care.

“We’ve been recognized for our holistic approach, which combines patient-centered care with the latest and greatest cancer technology and treatments,” says Cory Barrat, M.D., who serves as the director of The Jewish Hospital Rectal Cancer Program and chair of Colon and Rectal Surgery for Mercy Health Cincinnati.

The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health is a community hospital where patients have the advantage of seeing the same people throughout their entire treatment. Yet behind the scenes, there is a group of specialists from varied disciplines who meet regularly to monitor each patient’s customized plan.

“It is so important to have this collaborative approach to ensure that the right course of action is in place for every patient. Add to that our innovative technology and you have the best of both worlds,” Barrat says.

The Mercy Health colorectal team sees patients with a range of colon, rectal, anal and small intestine issues at both Mercy Health – West Hospital and The Jewish Hospital. The Jewish Hospital is the main hub for rectal cancer care and offers the most advanced diagnostic and treatment options, including a specialized MRI, and minimally invasive and robotic surgery. 

“Robotics isn’t used widely yet for advanced rectal cancers. We’re ahead of the curve,” says Barrat. “With robotics, we can visualize better and use more precise tools and techniques, which allows us to remove tumors with fewer nerve issues and a higher chance of a completely minimally invasive approach. This results in shorter hospital stays and quicker recoveries. It gets patients back to their lives quicker. It’s a game-changer.”

Prevention is Key

Colorectal cancer is the third most common newly diagnosed and second deadliest cancer in the United States. Once diagnosed with cancer, getting great care is crucial but the best course of action is prevention.

While healthy habits like eating a high-fiber diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding smoking are important preventive measures, a colonoscopy is a must if you have a family history or other risk factors such as smoking, obesity or diabetes. Alarming symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, changes in stools, anemia (low blood counts), or unexplained weight loss should prompt additional testing.

“We’re seeing an increase of colon and rectal cancers in people under age 50, so the new guideline for a first screening colonoscopy is age 45 for average-risk patients,” Barrat says. “Those with a family history or other risk factors may need a colonoscopy at a much younger age. It is important to speak to your primary doctor.” 

Want to learn more about Mercy Health Colorectal Cancer Care? Visit or call 513.686.5392 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Barrat.

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