As children, we hear a lot about the dangers of smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoking being risk factors for lung cancer. As maturing girls, we are taught to do self breast exams to be aware of any lumps for possible breast cancer. As female adults, we are told to make sure to get yearly Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer. We are all often reminded to wear sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer. Colorectal cancer … we are told to get screened starting at age 50.
So when I started having symptoms for this disease at age 36, the possibility that it may be colorectal cancer, at first, was at the bottom of my list. There is no known history in my family of colorectal cancer.
Most people would rather not talk about their bowel habits, but I think I need to, so if there is anyone else out there who is having these symptoms, take action immediately. In December 2009, John and I had taken a road trip down to visit my family in Florida. While I was there, I noticed that I had become constipated. I associated this with being in a car for long periods of time and not eating well while traveling. This persisted on and off even after we came back from Florida.
Somewhere between January and February 2010, I started noticing some blood in my stool. Since nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed are over the age of 50, I thought it could be anything but colorectal cancer. This concerned me, but I was still having constipation, so I assumed I had possibly done some internal damage that was causing this occasional bleeding.
At the beginning of March, I noticed something scary: I was losing weight. It’s scary to lose weight when you are not trying to do so, especially since this is one of the first things we often ask our new patients coming in with a new diagnosis of several cancers. It was even scarier when other people start to notice. Also during this time, I also noticed I was tired a lot more than usual. This is always a hard question for most of us, since in this day and age of people working long hours, aren’t most of us tired? This was different. Usually, if I was tired, I could ingest some sugar or caffeine and catch a second wind. Nope. At that time, if I was tired, I didn’t bounce back like I normally was able to do.
So after a few months of dealing with these symptoms, I decided I really needed to see a doctor. I went to see a gastroenterologist here at Rush in March. Thankfully, he listened to my symptoms and had me schedule a sigmoidoscopy. I was then diagnosed with rectal cancer. I was then seen by the GI Comprehensive Clinic after more testing was done to complete the staging of T3N1M0.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined in the United States. The earlier it is found, the better chance of being cured. The scary part is once symptoms occur, it is usually at later stage. I often wonder then why we don’t hear or talk more about this disease. I went through roughly a year involving radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries. I was able to get through most of this without any major complications. Thankfully, I was treated here at Rush and was well taken care of by all.
I am thankful for all of the support from my family, co-workers and friends throughout all of this. I think having support and lots of laughs is very important while going through a stressful, life-changing event. I received a lot of that from all of the wonderful people in my life!
Thank you all the doctors, nurses, medical assistants, med students, residents, coordinators, radiation techs, secretaries, social workers, nurse’s aides, NPs, PAs, CNSs, phlebotomists, pharmacy techs, pharmacists, pathologists, dietitians, case managers, psychologists and anyone else who took part in my care. I am truly grateful for everything that you have all done for me to help me get to where I am now – CURED!
You can’t die from embarrassment, but cancer can kill you. When in doubt, get checked out!
Wendy Dewey, RN, BSN, OCN, is a research and trials coverage analyst at Rush University Medical Center.