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Colon Cancer is no longer an “Old People” disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a study led by researchers finds that new cases of Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the US. Colon Cancer is the third most prevalent and lethal cancer among both men and women in the US. The amount of Colon Cancer cases rising in the ’30s and ’40s is very alarming. The alarming rise of Colon Cancer among young adults prompted the American Cancer Society in 2018 to change its recommended age to start screening from 50 to 45 for individuals at average risk. But that’s not always the case, I was 41 when I was diagnosed with Stage II Colon Cancer, so what average risk I fall into?
This is My Story;
It’s not easy for me to talk about because typing it out for everyone to read makes me very emotional and teary eyes, but is something that I need to do. I need to tell my story because I’ve lost too many loved ones, friends, and family to Cancer. Four years ago, in February 2016, I knew something was wrong, whenever I would get out of bed or out of the showers my heart palpitation was stronger than usual. I didn’t feel tired, because I was sleeping well, eating healthy, and exercising, so I was puzzled as to what could be wrong with me. I know my body and I felt it within, that something was wrong so I made an appointment with my doctor to see her that week. But that Tuesday morning I went to the gym for my usual workout and while working out I felt as if I was about to pass out. I suddenly became pale and had shortness of breath, my heart palpitation felt stronger and louder. My friend that was with me in the gym looked at me and asked if I was ok because I didn’t look well, I was white as a ghost. I went to the gym locker room shower and went to urgent care. At urgent care, the doctor checked all my vital signs, drew blood and all seemed normal and sent me home. Since I was going to see my doctor that week, I was advised to have my doctor run further tests. At about 3:30 am I received a call, from the urgent care lab supervisor, and she strongly advised me that I needed to go to the nearest Emergency Room because I needed a blood transfusion. She further stated that I had 1/3 of the blood I’m supposed to have in my body and was amazed by how I didn’t pass out because my red blood cell count was very low.
I looked over to my husband and when he saw the look on my face he knew that call was bad news. I was numbed and started crying because all I can think about was my son, he was just 7 yrs old, at the time. At that moment neither one can go back to sleep and I just got up, started packing a bag because I knew I was not coming home the same day. We dropped off our son at school and went to the hospital, Emergency Room. After registering in triage, just like I imagined, I was admitted because I needed 3 rounds of blood transfusions and they wanted to do further testing. At that moment, my mom was in charge of caring for my son while I was at the hospital. Thank god for my mom! All I can think of was my son, and couldn’t help think what was wrong with me? Why is this happening? These questions swirled in my mind as I tried to absorb it all in wondering what was going to happen next, deep down I knew something was wrong. I had a team, of doctors at Montefiore Medical Center, the hospital was extremely overcrowded and I didn’t get a room until the next day, all this time I was in the hallways on a hospital bed getting my blood transfusion. Thank god my husband was with me because I was afraid to even close my eyes for a nap. Throughout the day and night, I received 3 rounds of a blood transfusion as the team of doctors checked on me they couldn’t determine what was wrong. One of the doctors came to the conclusion I had some kind of internal bleeding, but they needed more time to confirm it. The doctors suggested I stay longer at the hospital so they can run more tests, but I declined because I wanted to see my doctor. I was discharged and the next day met with my doctor.
Primary Doctor Consultation
I visited my primary doctor and discussed with her what occurred, I had chronic anemia that’s why my red blood cell count was very low and I had eternal bleeding. I had no symptoms of any kind of bleeding, so I was very confused. She ran more blood test and referred me to her husband that’s a Gastroenterology, to run a set of internal test. Since the Dr. at the Hospital stated I had internal bleeding she wanted to start with internal testing an endoscopy and colonoscopy. When she mentioned colonoscopy, I was a bit shocked because those tests are usually done to older people. She explained to me, that she needed to get to the bottom of it, as to why I had low red blood cells count and if I indeed had internal bleeding, where was it? and what was causing it? It is not common for a healthy 41 yrs old woman, that all of a sudden has low red blood cells count.
After the Colonoscopy
I was scared because I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve never gotten an endoscopy and colonoscopy, just going through the screening is very stressful. One thing I have to say that the doctor made me feel comfortable and assure me the procedure was going to be quick and I was going to be ok. Once I woke up from the procedure I was in the recovery room and within minutes the doctor walked in with a paper in his hands. He informed me that I had a tumor, in my colon. He scheduled an appointment to meet with him to discuss the next step. As I walked out and met my husband in the waiting area, I was once again numbed. Everything seem so surreal, I have a tumor and I knew deep down it wasn’t good. The doctor could not confirm if it was malignant until further testing was done. A week later I met with, the Gastroenterologist in which he had to referred me to one his colleague, that was going to handle my case because I was going to need surgery to remove the tumor. When my doctor called, of course, his colleague didn’t take my insurance, but the doctor that picked up the call stated he takes my insurance and he’ll be happy to take my case.
Meeting the Colorectal Specialist & Getting the Results
Before meeting the Colorectal Specialist, I had to get a CT scan. The specialist needed to pinpoint the location of the tumor, and where was the internal bleeding. He wanted to cover all basis if I had other organs affected by the tumor. After the test was done a few days later I had to meet the specialist at New York-Presbyterian Medical Center. I met with Dr. Hunt, site chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery. Meeting him for the first time was so overwhelming because he had to break some bad news to me. As I sat in his office, those words that I never thought I would ever hear, came out of his mouth, ” You have a tumor in your Colon, that’s malignant “Colon Cancer”! Oh my god, for a second I just saw his mouth moving and not a sound coming out. What I admired about him, was that after he broke the news he paused and gave me time to compose myself because I just broke down crying. I was 41 years old, had no symptoms, wasn’t overweight and no family history of Colon Cancer, I didn’t fit the Colon Cancer screening criteria.
My biggest mistake was that I went alone to meet with the specialist, but honestly, I was not expecting to hear I have Colon Cancer. Dr. Hunt’s calm, compassionate manner made the news a bit easier to take. He explained the next step, which was a Colectomy Surgery to remove the tumor, and walked me through what the surgery would entail. He informed me once the tumor is removed it has to be sent to a pathologist to determine what stage the cancer is.
Before the Surgery
My surgery was scheduled the day after Easter Sunday. I sat through my son’s 8th birthday party and Easter making believe everything was ok when deep down I was scared as sh*t. It was hard to break the news to my mother, family, and some close friends. Four months prior, my 35 yrs old cousin lost her battle to breast cancer. So here I am four months later with this horrific news to my family. My mother took it the hardest she could not look at me and not burst into tears. I couldn’t be around my mom because I would get all emotional and just think about my son. I was only 41 years old, with a young son, and all I can think of, what was going to happen to me? I can’t leave my son alone without a mother! and of course the million-dollar question, “Why would God let this happened to me”? The day finally arrived although I was dreading it, deep down I just wanted this poison out of my body. As soon as I arrived at the hospital I was immediately prep by Dr. Hunt’s team and they made sure I was comfortable and any question and concerns they were there to help me. ALL and I mean ALL of his team assured me that I was in good hands, that made a difference. I was in tears, and my husband just comforted me and assured me I was going to be ok, but I saw the fear in his face.
The surgery took approximately 4 hours, I was taken to a recovery room where I was monitored as the anesthesia wore off. Once I was awake I was taken to my hospital room to continue my recovery. Dr. Hunt came checked on me and advise that the surgery went well, He removed the tumor along with all the lymph nodes around it, a portion of my large intestine and had to reconstruct it. I love that while he explained it he drew a diagram. The next 24 hours of the recovery, was crucial I was going to be monitored until I regain bowel function. Since my blood levels still a bit low I also received more blood transfusion. During my stay at the hospital, the doctor was very surprised at how well I was recuperating that within a few days he discharged me so I can recuperate at home with a follow-up appointment. During my follow up appointment the following week with Dr. Hunt removed the bandages and stitches. He also informed me that the biopsy from the pathologist came back and it was Stage II Colon Cancer. He referred me to Oncologists because he’s the one that will decide what’s the next step, either Chemo or Radiation.
Consultation with Oncologist
Meeting the Oncologist for the first time was yet again, very emotional because he was going to tell me what’s the next step, either chemo, radiation, or none. After examining me, going through my records, and the test results the Oncologist concluded that the surgery was curative. Dr. Hunt did such an excellent job in removing the tumor and lymph around it that the surgery removed all the cancerous tumor. He credited that I had a smart primary care doctor, to go to the extreme as to schedule me for a Colonoscopy. Normally some doctors will not have done a Colonoscopy because I didn’t fit the Colon Cancer patient guidelines because of my age and no immediate family history. Since my anemia was severe, the oncologist gave me three rounds of Iron about a week apart because there was no way iron pills were going to kick in right away.
I am very thankful, not only did I have a very smart doctor, but I listened to my body. I knew something was not right and my gut kept telling me I was right. The diagnosis was caught early that surgery was curative and Dr. Hunt did an amazing job. I wish I can say my faith was strong and my attitude was positive, but I’m only kidding myself because it wasn’t. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m the strongest person they can meet. I was scared and I wasn’t ready to face the reality of the situation in getting chemo or radiation. I was angry that this cancerous poison invaded my body, but I guess this is a normal reaction. After the surgery, and all that came after I was grateful that God gave me a second chance, that I was able to catch this early and I can possibly live and be my son’s mom. I’m blessed with an amazing family and friends and the support system they offered made me sustained throughout this difficult time. The Oncologist continues my screening follow-ups, with blood screening every 3-6 months, and a CT Scan and Colonoscopy every year. He’s also an amazing doctor. I had an amazing team of doctors that handle my case from day one.
3 Silent Symptoms of Colon Cancer To Never Ignore
As young adults, we go through life thinking we have the superpower of being invisible, that certain things would never happen to us. Guess what, It happened to me at 41 years old, I was diagnosed with stage II Colon Cancer, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s important as young adults that we start taking care of ourselves and most importantly LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. I will share the three (3) silent symptoms of Colon Cancer to never ignore, especially the young adults.
Everyone’s body is different and not everyone with Colon Cancer has the same symptoms. But if you develop any of the symptoms, see your doctor right away. Your body will tell you, all you have to do is listen and pay attention.
1. Weight Loss– If you experience a significant decrease in weight loss, even though you are working out or not you have to see a doctor immediately. In my case, the tumor was blocking the colon in which affected my bowel movements and cause severe weight loss. The cancer cell was using up my body’s energy while my immune system was working to prevent the disease from spreading, which made me Anemic because my red blood cell count was low. I thought it was from working out but when I look back now I realized that I couldn’t have lost all that weight significantly that fast by just working out.
2. Irregular Bowel Movement- Any kind of irregularities, constipation, loose watery stools or diarrhea can all be symptoms of colon cancer accompanied by bloody stool. If you wipe your booty and there is blood on the toilet paper or you noticed a bit of blood inside the toilet might be a sign of rectal bleeding. Please don’t be embarrassed to bring it up to your doctor, trust me, they have seen worse. It’s very important that whatever symptoms you have you let your doctor know.
3. Belly Pain or other symptoms of blockage – This includes severe belly pain or cramping that don’t go away, vomiting, not being able to pass stool or gas, and other signs of belly distress.
One of the biggest problems young adults are facing today is that Colon Cancer is usually diagnosed at a later stage because ALL of the signs are overlooked and sometimes misdiagnosed. As I looked back at all of this, NOW it makes sense. In 2014, I was admitted to the hospital for severe belly pain, for 48 hours I couldn’t stop vomiting. Doctors inserted a tube through my nose down to my stomach thinking I needed my stomach pump, because of something I ate. They did all kinds of test and they still couldn’t figure out what was wrong when doctors decided on surgery via laparoscopic, then and there they learned I had an intestinal blockage. After surgery, all doctors said to me was that I had anemia to just drink iron pills and I was going to be fine. WRONG!!!! Two years later I, was diagnosed with stage II Colon Cancer. In 2014 I had the 2 out of the 3 silent symptoms, Anemia and a blockage but because I didn’t fit the colon cancer patient guidelines because of my age, why would I get screened for Colon Cancer.
We live in a TOXIC world, and nowadays you got to be an advocate for your health. Speak to your health care provider about different kinds of Colon Cancer screening available and get it done. Schedule your annual physical and gynecology exam and share everything with your doctor. Learn your family history and if Cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about getting the Genetic Cancer test. There is also a BRCA gene test for breast and ovarian cancer risk. I did a BRAC gene test when I lost my cousin to breast cancer some Health insurance pays for it dome don’t. Don’t be ashamed to tell your doctor everything you are feeling, lying, and omitting symptoms is not going to help you in the long run. Listen to your body and if you are not satisfied with the doctor’s diagnosis, get a SECOND opinion. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor’s question and if you are unclear about something, ask your doctor to explain it again. Educate yourself in understanding how your health insurance works, what they cover, and what they don’t. Keep records of all your procedures, discharge papers, and medical bills. Do RESEARCH lot’s of research to better understand what you are going through, facing, and going to face. Please DO NOT self diagnose yourself online solemnly on the symptoms you are experiencing GO SEE A DOCTOR.
Thank you for reading, and remember Colon Cancer is no longer an Old people disease. If you or anyone you love is going through a cancer screening process, just know that you are not alone. I know is hard and might seem you are in a dark moment of your life, with no way to escape just know you have people to support you because you are not alone. Remember Faith and Strength, is what’s going to get you to the next phase. If you have any questions or need to talk, send me an email or comment below.