I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer aged 34 despite being in best shape of my life – don’t ignore the embarrassing symptom I did

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Jelena Tompkins was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer at age 34 
  • Her first symptom was foul-smelling gas, followed by blood in her stool 
  • READ MORE: You should get a colonoscopy if you have two common symptoms
  • Have YOU or a loved one been diagnosed with early-onset cancer? We want to hear your story. Contact us at health@dailymail.com 

A mother who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer after thinking her foul-smelling gas was from her probiotics.  

Jelena Tompkins, from Colorado, was just 34 years old in 2016 when she noticed that her gas smelled more foul than it used to. 

The mother-of-one had just run a half marathon and kept a healthy diet, though she thought it could have been from something she ate.

Ms Tompkins started taking probiotics to balance her gut bacteria, but the smell did not improve. Soon after, she noticed blood in her stool. 

Jelena Tompkins was just 34 years old in 2016 when she noticed her gas smelled more potent than normal. She was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer

Ms Tompkins had just run a half marathon before her diagnosis and ate a healthy diet. 'I was in some of the best shape of my life,' she told The Patient Story. 'I ate healthy and didn¿t ever think that cancer would strike me at such a young age'

Ms Tompkins had just run a half marathon before her diagnosis and ate a healthy diet. 'I was in some of the best shape of my life,' she told The Patient Story. 'I ate healthy and didn¿t ever think that cancer would strike me at such a young age'

Ms Tompkins had just run a half marathon before her diagnosis and ate a healthy diet. ‘I was in some of the best shape of my life,’ she told The Patient Story. ‘I ate healthy and didn’t ever think that cancer would strike me at such a young age’

She attributed the symptoms to the probiotics, and at her annual physical a few months later, her doctor said the bleeding was just from dietary changes. 

However, three months later, when Ms Tompkins wasn’t taking the probiotics, doctors ran allergy tests to see if food intolerances had upset her digestive system. 

Finally, she underwent a colonoscopy, which revealed stage three rectal cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. 

‘I was in some of the best shape of my life,’ Ms Tompkins told The Patient Story. ‘I ate healthy and didn’t ever think that cancer would strike me at such a young age.’

Colorectal cancer rates are on the rise worldwide, causing an epidemic in young people. 

Rates are expected to double in young people by 2030, and colorectal cancer is also expected to become the leading cause of cancer deaths in people under 50 by the end of the decade. 

Cancers of the colon and rectum are the third most common type in the US and the third leading cause of death in both men and women.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates about 153,000 colorectal cancer cases were detected in 2023, including 19,500 among those under 50 years old.

Some 53,000 people are expected to die from the disease this year.

Experts are still working to unravel the cause of this devastating epidemic. They have commonly blamed unhealthy diets, alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles on this shift.

Data from JAMA Surgery showed that colon cancer is expected to rise by 90 percent in people ages 20 to 34 by the year 2030. Doctors are not sure what is driving the mystery rise

Data from JAMA Surgery showed that colon cancer is expected to rise by 90 percent in people ages 20 to 34 by the year 2030. Doctors are not sure what is driving the mystery rise

Ms Tompkins underwent radiation and chemotherapy, with breaks to attend her sister's wedding and run in a local race

Ms Tompkins underwent radiation and chemotherapy, with breaks to attend her sister’s wedding and run in a local race

Ms Tompkins had 12 inches of her colon and rectum, as well as 17 lymph nodes, removed and was given an ileostomy bag

Ms Tompkins had 12 inches of her colon and rectum, as well as 17 lymph nodes, removed and was given an ileostomy bag

Ms Tompkins had 12 inches of her colon and rectum, as well as 17 lymph nodes, removed and was given an ileostomy bag

Ms Tompkins underwent 28 days of radiation and the chemotherapy pill Xeloda, also known as capecitabine, which is designed for late-stage colorectal cancer.

After another two months of rest, her tumor started to shrink, though she still required surgery. 

Doctors removed 12 inches of colon and rectum, as well as 17 lymph nodes, leaving five cancerous nodes remaining. 

Ms Tompkins was had an ileostomy, which is when surgeons make an opening in the abdomen and bring a piece of the ileum, the lowest part of the small intestine, outside of the abdominal wall to create a stoma. 

Digested food then passes through the stoma into an external pouch instead of through the rectum and anus.

Six weeks after surgery, she started on the combination chemotherapy FOLFOX, finishing in May 2017, just in time to run in a local race. 

Ms Tompkins is now in remission and undergoing maintenance chemotherapy, along with scans once a year. 

Part of what makes colorectal cancer difficult to diagnose is its symptoms, which can often be attributed to other conditions. However, some stand out more than others. 

A study published last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that the most reported symptoms were abdominal pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea, and iron-deficiency anemia. 

Additionally, in a 2020 survey by Colorectal Cancer Alliance, 68 percent of participants said they experienced blood in their stool. The average participant age was 42. 

The same survey also found that many patients with colorectal cancer symptoms were initially misdiagnosed or dismissed. 

More than half of respondents said they were misdiagnosed with conditions such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, anemia, and mental health issues. And patients ages 19 to 39 were more likely to feel dismissed by their provider.

In one study, with just one symptom took an average of 10 months to receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Those with at least three symptoms were diagnosed after five months on average. 

Ms Tompkins is now in remission and takes maintenance chemotherapy, along with scans every year to look for recurrance

Ms Tompkins is now in remission and takes maintenance chemotherapy, along with scans every year to look for recurrance

A 2020 survey from Colorectal Cancer Alliance found that many patients with colorectal cancer symptoms were initially misdiagnosed or dismissed

A 2020 survey from Colorectal Cancer Alliance found that many patients with colorectal cancer symptoms were initially misdiagnosed or dismissed

Standard colonoscopy screening begins at age 45, and Ms Tompkins acknowledged that she was lucky her doctor did not resist ordering one for her. 

‘If they refuse a colonoscopy, tell them that they need to put in your file that you came to them with symptoms and that they refused to give you a colonoscopy,’ she said. 

‘That may also make them think twice about denying it.’ 

Since cancer does not run in her family, Ms Tompkins sought support from online communities of other patients. 

‘We could vent to each other when we were really tired or ask, “Hey, is this bothering your system?” Or, “Oh my gosh, is your ileostomy going crazy too? What can you do to slow this down? What do you drink when you’re going through FOLFOX and you’ve got that cold sensitivity and everything has to be hot?”‘ she said.

‘Those are some of the things you don’t necessarily bother your oncologist about, but having a friend there to support you through can help bounce ideas off of you and help you feel like you’ve got a support group that’s there for you and that you can reach out to if you’re having a bad day.’

ColoradoCancer

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