Updated: May 28
An advanced Stage III colon cancer diagnosis was the last thing I expected to receive at 37-years-old. I was living the average life of a busy, overly committed mom-of-four and wife when crisis and illness ravaged my body, stole my identity and damaged or destroyed almost everything that gave my life meaning.
I was left vulnerable, shaken and painfully aware that the vision I’d held for how my life was supposed to be was nothing more than an illusion. The harsh reality is that none of us are guaranteed a life lived into old age with our vision of a happy ending.
That realization was incredibly challenging for me to accept. I struggled to find meaning around everything that was happening. I lost my sense of purpose and even started to question whether my life was worth fighting for.
After wrangling with tremendous grief, fear and heartbreak I determined that the best way to find meaning again would be through embracing whatever life I had left. This would require traveling to new depths within myself. I set myself an aggressive goal. One bigger than "crushing cancer."
I would use this experience as an opportunity to get deeply present with my life, connected with my body, and engaged with the world. Even if I died I would have lived a truly meaningful life as the greatest version of myself, intent on leaving a lasting legacy for my family, most especially in the eyes of my children.
I had walked hard paths before and was intent on walking this one, too. And I would use my experience as an opportunity to set an example for others along the way.
When people hear my story I am often asked whether I experienced symptoms prior to my diagnosis. The answer to that question is yes; however, symptoms are only one of what I consider a three-point “essential information list” about colon cancer. Knowing all three could help save your life:
Cancer is on the rise in young adults
It’s best to be tested for colon cancer before symptoms are experienced
Knowing the symptoms of colon cancer will help you seek treatment
Cases of colon cancer are on the rise in young adults and the median age of patients diagnosed is getting lower.
According to the American Cancer Society, the disease is rising at alarming rates in people ages 18 to 35 and half of all new diagnoses this year will be in people under the age of 66.
An article from MD Anderson recently reported that if the current trends continue, by 2030 colon cancer cases are projected to increase by 90% in patients under age 35, and rectal cancer cases are expected to increase by 124% in this young patient age range.
Colorectal cancer does not run in my family and genetic testing would later prove that I had no predisposition for cancer. I'm also an avid runner and was eating what I thought was a healthy diet.
All of my doctors told me that the cause of my cancer was a mystery and nobody could provide me with an explanation other than that mine was a case of extremely bad luck.
That response didn't help me to sleep at night. I needed answers. I decided to research everything I could learn about colorectal cancer to try to better understand how and why this could have happened. What I discovered was that there are far too many stories similar to that of my own. I am just one of many young adults who have become part of the new normal in a dangerous colorectal cancer trend that everyone needs to pay closer attention to.
You would be surprised at how many parents with children are members of the colorectal cancer support groups that I joined. The sheer numbers stunned me.
I recognized there is a critical need to inform, educate and raise awareness around this disease.
People are dying because people aren’t talking about the symptoms that we all need to look
out for. People don't understand how critical it is to inquire about screening should they have any symptoms. My goal is to change that and to share what others need to know in order to protect their health.
Maybe the most frightening part about colon cancer is how easy it is to dismiss the common symptoms that many cancer patients exhibit. My own doctors didn’t suspect cancer because I appeared too young and seemingly healthy. I was eventually diagnosed with colorectal cancer after several tests and procedures “ruled out” other possible causes for my digestive issues.
When my own symptoms appeared, I ignored the many red flags that my body exhibited to indicate something was wrong -- for four months. I can’t help but wonder what might have been different in my case had I gone in sooner.