I’m a 34-Year-Old With Colorectal Cancer. Here Are the Early Signs I Wish I Hadn’t Ignored

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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The GI doctor also thought it was probably nothing to be worried about and scheduled a colonoscopy. He said it wasn’t probable I had any tumors, but it also wasn’t out of the question—many younger people were being diagnosed with colon cancer, so it was great I wanted to find answers, he told me. Going into the colonoscopy, he, like my PCP, figured my symptoms were due to hemorrhoids. All of my blood work, including my red and white blood counts, came back normal. (Sometimes, a low red blood cell count, which can occur from a bleeding tumor, is one of the earliest signs of colon cancer.)

A month later, I had the colonoscopy. The nurses and doctors were in a great mood when I checked into the clinic. A nurse said, “You’re so young! Why are you here?” and I thought, “Oh my god, she just jinxed me. Now I totally have cancer.” I was sedated for the procedure, and when I woke up, the doctor told me they found a big tumor and had taken a biopsy to determine if it was malignant. I was out of it from the anesthesia, but tried to soak it all in. To be honest, I’d had an inkling it might be serious—I even told my coworkers a couple days before my colonoscopy that I thought I had cancer, and they were like, “There’s no way.”

Three days later, my doctor called: I had adenocarcinoma. I was shocked, even though I suspected something deep down. The next steps were laid out: I needed to make an appointment with a colorectal surgeon and do diagnostic testing—including CT cancer staging and an MRI—to see how advanced the cancer was in order to inform my treatment plan.

Everything started to move quickly. The imaging tests showed that the cancer was localized to my colon and hadn’t spread to other parts of my body. I had stage 2 colorectal cancer and would have to do chemotherapy, radiation, and get surgery to eliminate all of the cancer from my colon.

There was so much I had to do, and I was totally overwhelmed. My mom encouraged me to take things one step at a time, which helped me stay calm. Instead of looking at all of the drugs, scans, tests, and procedures on my plate, I focused on a single goal, like my upcoming surgery, and simply getting through that.

At the start of 2020, I started oral chemo by taking a drug called capecitabine daily, and I did radiation treatment five days a week for a few months to shrink the size of the tumor before having surgery to remove it. That way, the surgeons wouldn’t have to cut out quite as much colon.

When I completed those treatments in March of that year, I had a low anterior resection, a surgery to remove the portion of my colon containing cancer, and an ileoscopy, a procedure where your small intestine is redirected out through your stomach into a bag. This is a temporary solution after a colon resection—it’s done so poop doesn’t pass through your colon, where there’s a fresh wound that could become infected that way. Instead, the waste is rerouted and released through a colostomy bag attached to the outside of your stomach. That whole experience was a mindfuck, but at the same time, I was stoked I got through the big surgery and was in the clear.

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