Navigating an Early Stage Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis:
A Personal Journey of Advocacy and Resilience

Anna, a 33-year-old scientist in the medical field, was living a vibrant life with her 5-year-old son when she received the unexpected news of a colorectal cancer diagnosis. According to 2020 data, new cases of colon cancer affect about 1.9 million people annually, and a number that is expected to increase in the years to come.

Amidst the shock and uncertainty that followed, Anna's journey has not only been one of personal resilience but also a testament to the importance of early screening and early detection in combating this disease.

Early symptoms trigger colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis

Anna's journey began with a simple concern about bloody stools, prompting a visit to her doctor and subsequent colonoscopy. The diagnosis of colorectal cancer at such a young age came as a shock, challenging Anna's understanding of the disease and prompting a whirlwind of emotions.

Anna recalled, “I missed the call from the doctor who called to give me the news of my diagnosis because I wasn’t expecting it. I was 33 and otherwise healthy.”

“I work in the medical field, so I know about cancer, but it is interesting when you are personally faced with the disease — all my knowledge went out the door, and I didn’t know what to do.”

“I knew several people who had passed from cancer, but they were all ‘old.’ How does someone get colon cancer at 33? I didn’t have any family history, and all of my genetic testing results were normal — meaning there wasn’t anything in my genes that could’ve caused it.”

Colorectal cancer removed surgically and found to be stage 1 cancer

Undergoing a laparoscopic colon resection, Anna had a portion of her colon removed, along with lymph nodes. Fortunately, the cancer was diagnosed at an early stage, sparing her from the need for chemotherapy or radiation. Despite the relief of a favorable prognosis, Anna grappled with questions surrounding the origins of her diagnosis and the potential implications for her future.

“18 inches of my large intestine and about 20 lymph nodes were removed. Because the tumor hadn’t reached the wall of the colon, I was diagnosed at stage 1, which is not a common stage at diagnosis. It meant I was very fortunate. My doctor told me I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation, just some recovery time from the surgery. Genetic testing was done on the tumor, and I also had a genomic blood profile done. Both were negative for hereditary components that could’ve caused my colon cancer.”

My mission as a colorectal cancer survivor

Anna and her son, who was 5 when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Anna's journey of recovery led her to introspection and a newfound sense of purpose. Recognizing the scarcity of awareness surrounding colorectal cancer in young adults, she embarked on a mission to advocate for early screening and detection. Attending conferences and connecting with fellow survivors ignited a passion for advocacy, despite initial feelings of guilt over her comparatively straightforward cancer experience.

Anna pondered, “How does someone get colon cancer at 33? I didn’t have any family history, and all of my genetic testing results were normal — meaning there wasn’t anything in my genes that could’ve caused it.”

“Though I hadn't realized what it was, I knew there had to be a reason this happened to me. I didn’t know anyone else with colon cancer, especially someone under 50. I felt so alone. Then I decided it was time to start doing something. I had a 5-year-old son, and I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent this from happening to him. I signed up to attend a conference for colon cancer patients and caregivers in Arizona, USA. At the time I had no idea that attending this conference would change my life.”

“After hearing stories from other survivors who were dealing with way more hardship, I felt guilty for telling my uneventful, month-long ‘battle’ with cancer.”

“I realized my purpose in life might be colon cancer advocacy. I was young, I knew the signs and symptoms, I talked to my doctor right away, I was diagnosed at Stage I. What if I was put on this earth to educate others that you are never too young for colon cancer? Would it help save any lives? I didn’t know all of those answers, but I had to at least try.”

Conveying the Importance of Early Screening and Detection

Anna (right) and her friend Sarah, who lost her fight with colorectal cancer in 2020.

Seven years post-diagnosis, Anna remains dedicated to raising awareness about colorectal cancer through various platforms. From TV interviews to contributing articles, she tirelessly promotes the message that early screening can save lives. Despite lingering nerves, Anna continues to share her story in the hopes of educating others about the importance of early detection and encouraging proactive health measures.

“It has been 7 years since I was diagnosed, and I haven’t stopped being an advocate,”

“I will do anything I am offered to help educate and advocate for early screening and early-stage detection. My story doesn’t make people cry, but I hope it is interesting enough to open their eyes and know that colon cancer can be prevented and treated if it is detected at an early stage.”

“I still get nervous anytime I am asked to tell my story, but I do it for an even bigger purpose – to honor my friends I have lost to colorectal cancer.”

Anna's journey from diagnosis to advocacy serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of early screening and detection in combating colorectal cancer. Through resilience and determination, she has transformed her experience into a beacon of hope and empowerment for others facing similar challenges.

GLOBOCAN 2020: New Global Cancer Data | UICC 新規タブで開きます

This story is based on interviews conducted in July 2021. The conditions, feelings and treatment of each patient may vary from person to person. Please consult your doctor for your diagnosis and treatment.