My story starts off like so many other young cancer patients in their early thirties. I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t want to admit it. I suspected my physician was missing the signs and I allowed it because the alternative was too scary. Here is my story, not about treatment, but about the importance of being your own health advocate.
At first, the changes in my body were small. I was tired, my appetite was changing, my weight started fluctuating and there was some blood in my stool. At the age of 31, I decided it was time for a physical. At the visit I went over my family health history, which includes colon and breast cancers on both sides of my family. The doctor chalked my symptoms up to poor diet and lack of exercise. Oh, and that blood in my stool was just your run of the mill hemorrhoids. The doctor never checked me for the hemorrhoids and I was more than happy to avoid that kind of exam. Instead, I trusted what he said and went on with my life. I had more important things on my mind. I was getting married a few months later and starting a new career.
Fast forward three years. My health got worse. The weight fluctuations turned into significant weight loss. To me, it made sense because I wasn't eating as much because I didn't feel good after I ate. There was still blood in my stool, but more of it. These “hemorrhoids” were relentless! I had an overall change in my demeanor.
After suffering for a few more months, I went back to the same doctor. I was desperate at this point. I had lost even more weight and despite the overwhelming fatigue, I had stopped sleeping. I was prepared to be told once again that my diet was poor and I had hemorrhoids. Boy was I surprised when the doctor realized while standing in front me that his own nurse had misread the blood work results from a few months prior. My hemoglobin levels were dangerously low and had gone untreated for months. This is when things started moving quickly. I was finally getting that colonoscopy I had requested. In fact, I was getting it that week – rush order. Still, the doctor assured me it was precautionary and there was no need to worry about colon cancer because of my young age.
A few days later, I woke up from my colonoscopy to hear the words no one wants to hear. You have a large tumor and it is very likely cancer. The tumor was big — the size of an orange and it was blocking about 95 percent of the intestine. The next day, I found myself in a surgeon’s office, where I was promptly diagnosed with stage 3b colon cancer at the age of 34. I knew then and there that I had not advocated for myself all of those years. I allowed the doctors to miss what I instinctually knew was happening. From this moment on, I became my own health advocate. Never again will I allow any symptom to go unchecked.
I wish I had pushed for more answers when I originally went to the doctor and every subsequent visit afterwards. If I can help just one person avoid a late-stage cancer diagnosis, then I know my story isn’t all for naught. I am now 4+ years removed from all that and by all accounts I’m healthy, cancer free and somehow still married to the same wonderful woman. This year, we welcomed our first child into the world. Life is back to normal, or as close to normal as it can be with a newborn!
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.