I was 43 when I started getting more tired than usual and losing weight. This didn’t raise any red flags to me though, as a mother of two teenage daughters. These feelings went on for a few months, progressing to the point where I would get dizzy and lightheaded at times.
One day I saw bright red in the toilet and I immediately called my doctor. She told me not to worry, that I was too young for cancer and it was probably an infection. A few days passed and I became progressively weaker, there was more blood and I couldn’t stay awake or upright. I went to the emergency room and they performed an endoscopy and found a small ulcer which they said caused the bleeding. They sent me home but I was still exhausted.
Two days later there was more blood so I returned to the ER. I had lost so much blood that I needed a transfusion. A colonoscopy then confirmed a tumor in my large intestine. I stayed in the hospital a week recovering from the transfusion and I lost 20 pounds which is a lot when you’re a petite woman of 5′ 2″ and 120 lbs. When the results came back from the tumor, the doctor came in and was shocked when he saw me for the first time. He said he didn’t expect someone so young to have colon cancer. Thankfully, subsequent tests showed the cancer had not spread.
After a month of getting my strength back up, and drinking a lot to regain the weight I had lost, I had a colon resection. They removed one-third of my large intestine. The recovery was not easy but I have been cancer free for eight years now. I am so thankful that I showed symptoms or I probably would have not found the cancer. If I had waited until the recommended age of 50* to get a colonoscopy, I would have been at a later stage of cancer.
After my one year checkup found no cancer, I ran a half-marathon with my friends and we gave cancer the middle finger. I also ran a really tough relay race to challenge myself. When I was in the hospital I told myself if I ever feel better than how I do now, I owe it to myself to go running. So I’ve been running ever since.
I want everyone to know that colon cancer is showing up in people under 50 more and more often and it is important to watch for symptoms and get checked as soon as you can. I feel that especially as a middle aged woman, being tired and losing weight isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. It is a treatable cancer if found early. I also want to show people that colonoscopies aren’t that bad–I’ve had six!
*Since Erin’s diagnosis, the screening age for colorectal cancer has been lowered to 45.