I chose to deliberately and consciously dedicate my life - in and outside of my employment - to educate, advocate, and learn how best to represent the collective cancer community. Through my own experience surviving cancer and working in the medical space, I want to bridge the gap between the healthcare system and the communities that it serves.
My cancer story started over the course of a few months before my diagnosis when I started to notice subtle changes to my body. I thought the weight loss had to do with the Zumba I was doing, but then there was severe fatigue and blood in my stool that were alarming. The biggest symptom was the fact that I felt like when I ate, it felt like something was getting stuck inside me. I had never had a blockage in my life for any reason. Because of these symptoms, I talked to my doctor and she helped me get scheduled an appointment with a GI doctor.
My GI doctor saw me, ran some test and ultimately decided a colonoscopy was needed. A few months later my scope was complete and I had to wait for the results. That wait time after my scope was probably on the top 5 list of most stressful things in my life besides cancer. My doctor said., “I don’t think it’s cancer, but I did some biopsies” when I woke up after my scope. While waiting, I dived into work, you see I worked in a cancer research lab so knew a lot about cancer. I tried to distract myself. A few days later she called my cell while I was at work during the middle of the afternoon, and then I knew. She didn’t even have to tell me. I knew that I was about to go through the worst journey of my life, the biggest challenge I had ever faced. June 7th 2012 is when my life changed forever. I was told I had stage 3 colorectal cancer and I should try to find an oncologist and surgeon as soon as possible.
Because I had a previous colonoscopy a year and a half earlier that was clean, they thought it was pretty aggressive. Standard of care for someone with my diagnosis was going to be 5.5 weeks of combination chemotherapy and radiation, a break, then surgery. Surgery could range from a colon resection, to an ostomy. It just depended on what they found inside. After my first surgery I was scheduled for chemotherapy again. Something that was difficult for me was that I went through radiation and chemo without knowing anything. I had my scans, obviously, but I had no idea if the cancer was growing in me. Is it not growing in me? You don’t know if your treatment is actually working.
It wasn’t until I had my first surgery and I was opened up that they realized the lymph nodes they first thought were involved were only inflamed. It had not gotten into my lymph nodes or spread in my body, so it was downgraded to stage 2C. It’s always better to be downgraded than upgraded, and it’s rare that it happens.
Treatment was difficult and I did ultimately end up with a permanent ileostomy, but I have been cancer free for almost 11 years. While going through my treatment I felt so alone. When I went to my psychologist I asked about connecting with other young adults like me. She told me about some nonprofits and I got involved with a ton of colorectal nonprofits. I wanted to meet other patients / survivors like me. I often say the cancer community saved my life because they are truly my second family now. My take away message to others going colorectal cancer or any cancer for that matter is that you’re not alone. I looked around the waiting room and didn’t see anyone who looked like me, but if you search and you reach out to people and get connected to the resources you need and people who will help you throughout your journey this will change your life for the better.
After everything I have learned I chose to deliberately and consciously dedicate my life - in and outside of my employment - to use my voice and platform to educate, advocate, and continuously learn how best to represent the collective cancer community Through my own experience at surviving Stage 2 colorectal cancer, I have experience on both sides of the fence, and work to bridge the gap between the healthcare system and the communities that it serves.
I look at life through a lens that I never would have prior to having experienced cancer as a child, then as a young adult. Each and every breath is a gift and moment that shouldn't be wasted.
My faith in God grew and I don't take life for granted! I found freedom and peace in Christ!