It’s that time of year again…Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month! Welcome to March!
This is a picture that I hold near and dear to my heart. Not only was it my favorite vacation, but it was a time before cancer. I was 32 in that picture and so naïve. When I look at that picture, I think life was simple. I had no idea that in just a few short weeks from that picture, I would be diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer, lose my fertility, be sent into menopause, have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life and live with lifelong side effects.
That is the face of colorectal cancer. Webster’s defines naïve as “having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information.” That perfectly describes my life in that moment. I was living my picturesque life, but lacking critical information.
I went to the doctor’s after the first sign of blood in my stool, but I was told I was too young for that blood to be anything serious. I was thrilled to accept this as good news, but in reality my doctor was a bit naïve himself. Six months later, I was sent to a gastroenterologist and a colonoscopy confirmed that the mass in my rectum was cancerous. When the doctor told me that I would need an oncologist, it took me a while to wrap my head around that word…oncologist. Once I connected the dots…oncology…cancer…I remember thinking colon cancer is an old man’s disease, so how could this have happened? Again, I was so naïve.
In between surgery and my second round of chemo, I went through genetic testing. Because I was told they would need as much family history as I could provide, I brought my grandmother and her famous legal pads. Sitting in that office, I was shocked to hear that every branch of my family tree has had a gastro-type cancer. My great grandfather died at an early age from “stomach cancer” and the counselor told us this was a red flag for a genetic type of colorectal cancer. Genetic testing could be another post. Surprisingly, I do not have a genetic form of colorectal cancer, but I have a long family history.
Life before cancer was simple and I was naïve. I was quick to listen to wrong answers and slow to question even when symptoms persisted. I knew very little about my family history and considered colorectal cancer an old man’s disease. Eight years ago today, I was getting one child ready for a day of 1st grade, dropping our 3-year-old off at preschool and trying to keep up with a very busy toddler, while keeping an eye on the chemo pack connected through the port in my chest. How quickly life changed, because I was so naïve.
Know your family history! Listen to your body! No one is too young for colorectal cancer! Let me be your life lesson – don’t be so naïve.