Katie Says Screening is Key for Preventing Colon Cancer in Women

Katie Educates Others on How to Avoid Colon Cancer in Women and Men

Katie's story shows how colon cancer in women is nothing to be ignored. In fact, her personal colon cancer story has an eerie familiarity. Just like Bob, she had symptoms. And just like Bob, she was told by her doctor that she was too young to have colon cancer. Katie herself admits that she thought it was anything but colon cancer too – at first.

Explaining Away the Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Katie's symptoms began about a year before she was finally diagnosed.

It started with aches and pains in her right side. Katie explains, "It just felt like a stitch in my side and I figured that maybe it was my ovary or something in my reproductive system. I was approaching forty, so that made sense to me." But her gynecologic exams were all clear.

Katie also wondered if maybe she'd just been overdoing it. Being fairly active and working out, she figured maybe she’d just strained a muscle or pulled something. Over the next year, her pain continued to worsen.

"When I slept on left side, I felt a pulling sensation, which was really strange," says Katie. She began to feel a hard spot on the right side of her abdomen and she was increasingly fatigued too.

Like any healthy, active thirty-something, colon cancer was the furthest thing from Katie’s mind at that time. "I figured it was due to my high stress job, my long commute and my long hours.

Colon Cancer Symptoms Are Something You Can't Ignore

One Saturday, Katie had gone into work to catch up. She made herself a pot of coffee and was about to get started on her work, when she had a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. She raced to the bathroom. When she was done, the toilet was filled with blood.

"I figured it was my period, an obvious explanation for any woman," says Katie.

"Even so, I was pretty shaken up. I couldn't concentrate and I went home."

The next day, a Sunday, she was back in the office to try to get that work done. The same thing happened again. Katie went to the bathroom and there was a lot of blood. Katie had had enough. She knew her body and she knew something was terribly wrong.

Doctor in Denial

Katie went to her regular doctor and he referred her to a specialist. Even the specialist said, "You're too young for colon cancer."

But Katie was insistent. Even so, she felt as if her doctor scheduled her colonoscopy just to "humor her." One week later, the truth could no longer be denied.

During her colonoscopy, her doctors found a large mass in her colon and it was cancer. "As long as I live I will never forget that moment," recounts Katie. "My mom jumped out of her chair, and yelled "WHAT!?" to the doctor. The sound of her voice is still in my head."

Getting Through Colon Cancer Treatment

Despite being in her early forties, and feeling that she didn't "have time" for cancer, Katie knew she had to deal with this.

"I always figured I'd get breast cancer, which is what most women worry about," says Katie.

Katie's treatment was similar to Bob’s. She had a right hemicolectomy to remove the tumor followed by chemotherapy. Unfortunately for Katie, the chemotherapy was very hard. "It was very rough," she explains. "I don't care what excuse someone has for not getting a colonoscopy, it's a lot easier than going through colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy!"

"Don't avoid a colonoscopy, says Katie. "Today's benign polyp is next year's cancerous polyp and a year after that you've got full blown colon cancer. Then you're in an entirely different ball game. If you think a colonoscopy is invasive, you're wrong. You have no idea what invasive is until you've lived through colon cancer and its treatment."

Colon Cancer Genetics Again

Also similar to Bob, Katie found out she carried the HNPCC, or Lynch syndrome gene. This put her at very high risk for colon cancer.

Lynch syndrome can increase the risk of other cancers too. This includes cancers of the rectum, stomach, small intestine, liver gallbladder ducts, upper urinary tract, brain, skin, prostate, uterus (endometrium), and ovaries.

Families with Lynch syndrome usually have a strong family history of cancer. This was true for Katie too.

Katie's grandmother and great aunt on her father's side died of colon cancer. Her mom has had colon cancer twice. And her mom's mother, Katie's grandma, died of colon cancer. There are other cancers in her family too, including endometrial, brain, and breast.

Be Your Own Health Advocate

Katie's advice is to trust yourself. She knows that every patient is his or her own best advocate for health care. Katie says, "Don't be willing to take a "pat on the head" and "you're too young to get colon cancer" from your health care providers."

Katie also stresses that people should know their family history of cancer and other chronic diseases. It's important to know how that relates to your own preventive care.

Katie and Bob agree, "It shouldn't be something you avoid. And you shouldn't assume you'll have to take drastic measures to manage your risk. You may just need more active screening and surveillance for cancer."

One of Bob's cousins learned she was positive for HNPCC. When she first found out, she panicked She wanted to get prophylactic (preventive) hysterectomy. She wasn't yet thirty.

"We "talked her back down" from doing something drastic," say Katie and Bob. Now she has two beautiful kids. Instead of a hysterectomy, she has an excellent cancer surveillance plan worked out with her doctor.

Cancer Doesn't Have Me

Katie chooses to focus on the positive. She met Bob through an American Cancer Society support group and they ended up getting married! She explains that at one point, she was told she'd die in a year. That was several years ago.

Even Katie's mom, who is currently battling cancer, focuses on the positive. She says she's "living in spite of cancer," says Katie with a laugh. Katie's mom has even been zip-lining in South America and she's ridden an ostrich in South Africa.

Katie says she draws inspiration from her mom and their own personal statement of empowerment. The statement keeps them focused on the fact that they are in the driver's seat. They will not be victims of cancer.

"I may have had cancer, but cancer doesn't have me," says Katie with certainty.

Katie and Bob's Story

Bob's Story

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