In June 2012, I rented a movie called “A Little Bit of Heaven” I was hoping to relax before the big test that would certify me as an Art Teacher in NY.
The reason I picked the movie was that Kate Hudson was the main actor and I really enjoy her films. In the movie, her character is diagnosed with colon cancer and a light went on in my head.
All of the symptoms that the actor was portraying I had in real life. I paused the movie and wrote in my planner to call my doctor Monday morning.
When I went to my primary care physician, I listed out the symptoms that have been ailing me for months. All of which she explained away.
My Symptoms and What Happened Next
I was losing weight: I had recently changed my diet and started working out.
I was exhausted: Stress from graduating and going through a divorce.
My hair was thinning: Stress from graduating and going through a divorce.
There was blood in my stool: hemorrhoids.
I told her about the movie and that I thought I had colon cancer, she immediately told me she didn’t think it was colon cancer, “Colon Cancer affects people who are over 50 and usually male. You’re a 25-year-old female with no history of colon cancer in your family.”
I continued to push and she agreed to test my blood. Which came back normal. I left her office with a diagnosis of hemorrhoids and stress and was told if my symptoms got worse to call her back.
Within a week my symptoms worsened. There was more blood in my stool. My skin had a yellowish hue and I started hallucinating.
I called my physician and she agreed that more tests needed to be done. She gave me a referral to a GI specialist.
However I was unable to get an appointment, they deemed it an “unnecessary procedure.” I looked up other GI specialists in my area and was continuously turned down for appointments.
Help Wasn’t Easy to Get
I was so sick and so sure that it was colon cancer. Yet, no one would help me because I didn’t “fit the description.”
I began to think that I was going to die before anyone believed me. At this point, I decided to loop my family in and have them help me fight this battle. My mother encouraged me to call my primary care physician and have her pull strings to get me an appointment.
That worked. However, it was August, 2 months after I watched the movie. My appointment was not until February 2013 – 6 months away!
I was terrified that I was going to die before my appointment. My family took turns calling my doctor to see if there were any cancellations to get me in sooner. The only thing I could do now was wait.
Finally, I was able to get in for a colonoscopy in late October 2012. The doctor assured me, once again, that the likelihood of it being colon cancer was very small. “Almost nonexistent,” he said.
A few days later he called with the results.
He said, “Jessica, turns out you were right, you do have cancer.”
While I knew in my heart it was true, I was still shocked to hear it from him. Later that day I was sitting in his office with my parents as we discussed a treatment plan to battle a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis.
It was decided that I would undergo a colectomy in November 2012 with chemo to start in December 2012. I received my treatment at Pluta Cancer Center in Rochester, NY.
I was fortunate to be able to move back in with my parents during my treatment. My recovery took about a year.
Prevention Can Happen After Too
A few years after treatment, I decided to have genetic testing done.
I found out that I had a genetic mutation called PalB2, which basically means that my body can not suppress tumor growth. This mutation is linked to Skin, Breast, and Pancreatic cancer. Not yet linked to colon cancer.
When I first found out about the mutation, I became depressed. I thought my life would be filled with tumors and cancer treatments.
I soon discovered that having the knowledge of this mutation actually meant that I could be scanned regularly to discover any tumor growth and monitor or remove them before they turned cancerous.
What After Looks Like
To date, I have had 3 tumors in my colon, 3 in my uterus, and 2 in my chest.
After going through all of these health issues, I decided to change careers. I found an amazing company, GRYT Health, that is made up of other cancer survivors, caregivers, and researchers.
All of whom strive to make people affected by cancer not feel so alone. We offer support and resources in the hopes that no one has to experience the negative effects of cancer the same way that we did.
Since then, I’ve gotten married and am expecting my first child in June 2022 – something that doctors told me I would never be able to do.
I would never say that I am happy to have had colon cancer, but I am happy with how my life has turned out.
Remember symptoms of colon cancer may include, but are not limited to:
- A change in bowel habits.
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
- Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.
- Unexplainable weightloss.
Colon cancer does not just affect old men! If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, call your doctor.
Editor’s Note: National Dress in Blue Day is observed annually on the first Friday in March every year. The national holiday was started to raise awareness about the causes of colon cancer and how to prevent it.
Jessica typically makes a post on the first day in March to remind people that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. I mention wearing blue on Friday. Last year, she was shocked by the number of Facebook friends that posted a picture of themselves wearing blue in support of me. She would love to continue increasing that number every year!
Please wear blue on the first Friday of March and post a picture. You can tag Jessica on Facebook or Instagram. You can also tag GRYT Health’s social media profiles. Jessica has held various positions at GRYT Health since she started with us in 2018. She is our longest employee and is currently our Vice President of Operations. If you would like to learn more about Jess, her life, and her role here at GRYT Health, go to her team profile.