I was 33 when I first had blood in my stool. It was only one time, and it would have been very easy to ignore the one instance of blood. I felt fine – a little tired, but that’s normal for any mom with a young child and a full-time job. I am a Medical Laboratory Scientist, so I knew that blood in stool isn’t normal, but I wasn’t very worried about it.
I noticed the blood on a Thursday, and the following Monday I happened to mention it to my primary physician during our lunch break since we work at the same clinic. She thought it could be colitis, or perhaps an inflammatory bowel. Cancer was the last thing on the list, especially since I didn’t have any family history, and because I was only 33 years old. She recommended I have a colonoscopy, a procedure not normally recommended until age 45.
Things moved quickly. Two weeks after seeing the blood in my stool, on July 1, 2014, my gastroenterologist, Dr. Theresa Smith, performed my colonoscopy. She thought she would only find hemorrhoids, but instead found an unpleasant surprise – a large, nasty-looking polyp that turned out to be cancerous.
I was home alone when I got the call regarding my results two days later. I was not expecting to hear that I had cancer, so I asked Dr. Smith if she could verify that she was reading the correct results because I didn’t know that someone so young could even get colon cancer. She assured me she had the correct results, but couldn’t believe it herself.
About a week later, I underwent a colon resection where 18 inches of my large intestine and about 20 lymph nodes were removed. Because the tumor hadn’t reached the wall of the colon I was diagnosed with stage 1. It’s not common to be diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer, but it meant I was very fortunate because we had caught the cancer very early. I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation, just some recovery time from the surgery. Genetic testing was done on the tumor, and I also had a genomic blood profile done. Both were negative for any hereditary components that could’ve caused my colon cancer. Dr. Smith told me that my chance of a normal life span is almost 100 percent because my cancer was caught so early.
If I would have waited, my story would be very different.
Nonetheless, the cancer diagnosis has changed my life. I want to encourage people not to ignore the warning signs of a potential colon cancer diagnosis. Pay attention to everything. If you feel something doesn’t look right or feel right, check it out – right away! It is better to be safe than sorry. People need to know that colon cancer can happen at any age. Even with my medical background, I had no idea it could happen so early in life. I am now a passionate advocate of the importance of early detection.
It doesn’t matter how old you are; it’s not normal to have blood in your stool. If you have symptoms and your doctor tells you: “It’s fine, you’re young” — find another doctor, or keep pushing until they at least order a screening test.
I know that a cancer diagnosis is hard to hear, but I am proof that when diagnosed early, it is a lot easier to overcome. My cancer story isn’t a long one, and I am grateful for that!