I fight for every battle won and for those that are still fighting.
I was just 19 when I was diagnosed with stage II colorectal cancer. I had been experiencing symptoms like severe constipation, chronic fatigue, nausea, indigestion, and blood in my stool. The doctors never thought cancer, so they diagnosed me time and time again with internal hemorrhoids. My health was failing me, and I continuously thought there must be something wrong.
I was constantly running to the bathroom. I made it a point to talk to my coworkers about it in case I randomly disappeared, so they knew where to find me. I tried everything possible to diagnose myself. I found myself searching endlessly for answers as to what was wrong with me. I thought it was IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis, Celiac, but I never, ever thought cancer.
I absolutely knew that something was wrong with me when I couldn’t move my bowels at all. I left a toilet filled with blood. Working took everything out of me, and I would come home and crash from fatigue. I knew feeling like this at 19-years-old couldn’t be normal.
At the same time I was experiencing symptoms, my dad was recovering from surgery for stage I colon cancer at 44 years-old. The surgery removed the tumor and resected his colon. Thankfully, he did not need to receive further treatment. My father was also born with a tumor on his intestines. Unfortunately, we have none of his medical records and both of his parents are deceased. His father, my grandfather, died of colon cancer at the age of 41. If my dad had not been diagnosed with colon cancer two years prior to my diagnoses, I don’t know how much worse things could have turned out for me.
We discovered by genetic testing that I have Lynch Syndrome, a hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). According to NIH, Lynch Syndrome is an autosomal dominant genetic condition that has a high risk of colon cancer as well as other cancers including endometrial cancer (second most common), ovary, stomach, small intestine, hepatobiliary tract, upper urinary tract, brain, and skin.
Unfortunately, my dad was diagnosed 19 years after stage I colon cancer with Glioblastoma. He was given six months to a year to live. He is now going on almost three years cancer free. It wasn’t until he beat the odds that his doctors finally decided to test him for a genetic disorder. He tested positive for the same gene mutation as me. Although I have meet so many young adults with a family history of cancers, not all insurance companies will pay for genetic testing or screening. In turn, that can sometimes lead to a late stage diagnoses, being chronically ill for life, or death. Thankfully, my father and I have the type of insurance that will pay for genetic testing and will approve the proper screenings we need. I receive yearly colonoscopies, endoscopes, and other screenings due to having Lynch Syndrome.
What is important to know, is that a cancer diagnosis and treatment can change your life. It changes your identity, relationships, goals, and aspirations. Being a 16-year survivor is not all peaches and cream. I constantly live in fear of a reoccurrence. As a long term-survivor, you would think my life is normal and I can move on, but there are long term side effects from treatment. Some are so severe they can times lead to other major illnesses.
Through all of this, I have learned that colorectal cancer is on the rise in young, otherwise healthy, individuals. If caught early it is curable, but unfortunately it is often caught too late. There is not enough awareness or money for research, and I want to change that. I want the next chapter of my life to be dedicated to saving people from having to go through what I have been through. Let’s put our resources together and eradicate this disease from the face of the earth. I am willing to do whatever it takes to educate people on how preventable, treatable, and beatable this disease is. It’s such a humiliating and fearful experience. I want to desensitize it so everyone will speak openly about digestive issues without embarrassment.
Be the change you wish to see.
I Fight for Every Battle Won and for those Still Fighting.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.
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