Maria B Maria’s Colorectal Cancer Journey: Go back to what you know.

“Dr. Gilder is amazing because he’s not only good at what he does, but he’s also compassionate.”

Maria Branco, 67, went in for her routine colonoscopy with her local gastroenterologist, in Pennsylvania only six years since her previous screening. He told her everything looked normal and she should return in 10 years.

Not long after, Maria began experiencing irregular bowel movements, followed by rectal bleeding. She called her gastroenterologist and underwent a second colonoscopy, where he found the cancer. Maria was diagnosed with malignant neoplasm of the rectum. Her doctor told Maria, “For this, you want the best.” He referred her to Mark E. Gilder, MD, a colorectal surgeon. “He was right; he was the best,” said Maria. Dr. Gilder, an RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group provider, is affiliated with Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC) and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Following diagnosis, Maria endured yet another colonoscopy with Dr. Gilder this time, where he thought he may be able to remove the cancer. Unfortunately, he was not able to. “The decision was made; complete chemo and radiation, then surgery,” she said.

On January 9, 2024, Maria's husband, Carlos Branco, drove her from their home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to CBMC in Livingston, New Jersey, for the procedure where Dr. Gilder successfully removed the cancer.


After surgery, having to wear the ostomy bag was one of the most difficult parts of Maria’s recovery. She said she would tell her husband that she wasn’t sure she could do this, but he was always supporting her, telling her she could. “I wore the bag for only 6-8 weeks,” Maria explained, “then I went back to have it removed. Everything has been fine since.”

Maria chose to be treated at CBMC because she wanted to “go back to what she knew.” Not only was she born there when it was called Saint Barnabas Medical Center, but she delivered her kids there. Maria said she was glad Dr. Gilder was part of CBMC so she could be treated by him. “Dr. Gilder is amazing because he’s not only good at what he does, but he’s also compassionate.”

Less than two months into her recovery, Maria has returned to walking, riding a stationary bike, and practicing yoga. She recently returned, for her first colonoscopy since surgery.

“At Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, I can honestly say, I have yet to find one person that didn’t do their job with kindness,” Maria said. “It’s hard, but when you have people like that, it makes a world of difference.”

Learn more about The Cancer Center at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and schedule a colonoscopy.