Shortly after my 30th birthday, as a single mother to 5 year old Kaelem (now age 12), I woke one morning to excruciating abdominal pain and blood in my stool. My symptoms subsided so it wasn’t until a second episode of the same magnitude 11 days later that I couldn’t deny something was seriously wrong. I went to the ER but by the time I was seen, my symptoms had again subsided and my bloodwork results from a typical blood panel were normal. Days later, I visited with my primary doctor about possible culprits: irritated bowel syndrome or, in a worst case scenario in her opinion, Crohn’s disease, of which a colonoscopy is the most accurate means of diagnosis. We talked through the likelihood of each, and I ultimately opted for peace of mind, choosing the colonoscopy. Thankfully, I did because the outcome of that colonoscopy was one no one could’ve imagined, I had a tumor nearly completely obstructing my descending colon and it was cancerous. Following surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, it was determined Stage 3 Adenocarcinoma. I had surgery to remove a section of my colon followed by 6 months of IV chemotherapy. Once through with chemotherapy, I had no evidence of disease for nine months. During this time my boyfriend Steve proposed, we married and enjoyed an amazing honeymoon in St. Lucia. But the joy of that time ended shortly before Christmas in 2013 when I felt a lump in my abdomen which was determined to be the cancer again, this time in my abdominal wall ultimately determined to have resulted from a trocar site transplant. I again underwent surgery to remove the lump as well as another section of my colon which presented active per a PET Scan. I then endured another 6 months of more aggressive chemotherapy.
I’m so grateful to say, I’m now 4.5 years with no evidence of disease. We’ve also received two beautiful blessings, Amaya (age 3) and Quinnton (age 1), two naturally conceived children whom doctors said would likely not be possible after all the chemotherapy. But honestly, the cancer battle never seems to end. The mental battle and constant state of fear are a daily struggle. This battle is one I would never wish upon my worst enemy.
The greatest advise I could offer is to listen to your body. You know it better than anyone else. In hindsight, I likely had signs leading up to this. It’s very likely the physical changes were gradual enough I didn’t recognize them, but two things stand out when looking back. First, I couldn’t get my body to perform as it had just the year prior. I was training for a half marathon and I just couldn’t push beyond seven miles but I knew I should be able to because I had completed a half marathon the summer before. The second sign was fatigue. I was a CPA at the time and all of us are tired following the end of tax season, but that year I remember specifically thinking in mid May that I was just not rebounding like I felt like I should’ve been. It wasn’t until the symptoms were undeniable that I knew I needed to see a doctor and figure out what was going on and, by that point, the cancer was advanced.
Colonoscopies are so important. Colon cancer is on the rise and is being detected in more and more people under the age of 50. In fact, the recommended age of initial screening was dropped from age 50 to age 45. Please don’t put this off. Colon cancer is survivable. And if drinking the prep is holding you back from having a colonoscopy, I’ll be the first to tell you mind over matter. My little secret in getting through the prep – chase each glass with a lemon like you would a tequila shot with a lime – it immediately eliminates the after taste! Colon cancer can happen to anyone. At my time of diagnosis, I was physically active, not obese, ate healthy, with no family history and no known genetic disorder predisposing me to the disease. I continue to have an annual colonoscopy as a precautionary measure. It provides me peace of mind every time and my children will begin screening at age 20.
Many thanks to the medical staff at both the Cancer Care Institute and The Endoscopy Center. Without you, I would not be here telling my story.