‘I Was Lucky’: Raising Colorectal Cancer Awareness

wendy-deweyBy Wendy Dewey

In April 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 3B rectal cancer. This diagnosis came as a big surprise to me as well as my doctors, family and friends. The recommendation for colorectal cancer screening begins 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.

My symptoms started 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.

‘Something scary’

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. 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 2010. 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 (CEA blood level, CT scans, upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, and lower endoscopic ultrasound) was done to complete the staging of T3N1M0.

At the time of my diagnosis, it was not thought of as common to find colorectal cancer in a 36-year-old female. According to an article posted by the American Cancer Society,  the rates of new colorectal cancer diagnoses have been falling in the United States for people ages 50 and older. But for people under 50, for whom no routine screening is recommended, rates seem to be increasing significantly. I can attest to this personally, since after my diagnosis I have known of other people under age 50 (one a close childhood friend, along with family of friends or friends of friends) who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Sadly, some were diagnosed too late and lost their battle to this disease.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center conducted a study using data collected from 1975 through 2010. From that data, they predict that by 2030 the occurrence rates among people ages 20 to 34 will increase by 90 percent for colon cancer and by 124.2 percent for rectal cancer. Among people ages 35 to 49, they predict the incidence rates will increase by 27.7 percent for colon cancer and by 46 percent for rectal cancer.

Don’t ignore the symptoms

I continue to try to raise more awareness about colorectal cancer. Since the time of my diagnosis, I have noticed on the media, I hear a lot about risks and symptoms for lung cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer and cervical cancer. I rarely hear about colorectal cancer in the media. Even when a celebrity dies from this disease, it seems to be overlooked. 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.

Overall, I was lucky. 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.

Please, if you are age of 50 or older, go for your colonoscopy for screening. If you are under the age of 50 and having symptoms, please see your doctor. If your doctor is not further exploring your symptoms or concerns, seek a second opinion. All too often, I’ve heard of young patients either ignoring their symptoms or their health care provider ignoring their symptoms for too long.

If you are afraid of having a colonoscopy, keep in mind, I’ve had six and am still alive! If you think it’s inconvenient, think about how less convenient it could be to go for radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.

Also, talk to your family about any family history and encourage others to discuss this disease to help break the silent stigma around it. The more people know about this disease, the better chance it can be found earlier.

You can’t die from embarrassment, but cancer can kill you. When in doubt, get checked out!

Wendy Dewey, RN, BSN, OCN, is a bone marrow transplant coordinator at Rush University Medical Center.

26 thoughts on “‘I Was Lucky’: Raising Colorectal Cancer Awareness

    • Thanks, Susan! I had wonderful people helping to take care of me that I think are pretty amazing as well 🙂

    • JB-thank you & love you back! I’m lucky to have great friends that helped me through- no matter WHAT I asked them to do for me 🙂

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Wendy, I’m so very happy that everything went well with your treatments, and everything. You ROCK chick!!

  2. Wendy – I love you so much chicka! BFF’s since 7th grade, and you made that cancer your bitch!! I’m tearing up right now because I am SO PROUD of you!! Kudos to Rush for allowing you your voice on their website. They cured my Wendy Bird!

  3. Wendy – I love you so much chicka! BFF’s since 7th grade, and you made that cancer your bitch!! I’m tearing up right now because I am SO PROUD of you!! Kudos to Rush for allowing you your voice on their website. They cured my Wendy Bird!

    *hugs*
    Cheryl

  4. Wendy,this is a great story. It sure to touch alot of people that may have cancer now. Am so happy that you were able to fight and win. Am sure the positive attitude you had while dealing with something so traumatic was a big factor. God bless you girl:))

  5. You’ve been given a gift and now you are sharing life saving information to others. My best friend died at age 46 after having been diagnosed at age 44; he saw a physician who told him during the early stages of the disease, “You are too young to have this disease, get tested at age 50”. Unfortunately, this was too little too late. On behalf of my friend thank you for sharing your story. We have to advocate for ourselves. Stay well.

    • Dear Chris, I’m so sorry about your friend. What happened to him was awful. You are welcome & I’m glad to do whatever I can to help spread awareness to help others that are in need of help.

  6. Wendy, your story is really a very moving one, and your whole personality truly did not reflect what was going on. I admire a fighter who shows strength inspite of the enormity of the challenge or problem. Congratulations …….. God is great.

  7. I am so glad that you had an amazing outcome! I have had symptoms for years like what you are describing (tired, but not to the point you said). I have never gone because I am too embarrassed. I, too, doctor at RUSH for back issues. You have inspired me to look into a doctor there for my issues. Better to know than to wonder!! Is there a certain doctor that you recommend? Thank you!!!

  8. I also had colorectal cancer. Stage 3B. I was older but never got screened until I was losing my health insurance when I was becoming a budget cut at work. My GP started sending me for any screening before my insurance ran out. I had no symptoms. I went through treatment without insurance, thanks to Moffitt Cancer Center I am cancer free for 6 years.

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