July 15th, 2021:
“It's cancer”. I’m 99% sure these were the words that were spoken to me by the gastroenterologist who performed my colonoscopy. The 1% of uncertainty stems from the fact I was only about five minutes removed from my anesthesia-induced sleep & grogginess. It didn’t feel real then, it still doesn’t feel real now. When my wife was ushered back into my room, despite COVID restrictions for visitors, I should have known something was wrong. So, how did I get to the point of being diagnosed with colon cancer on July 15th, 2021? Let me provide my story.
I turned 30 years old on December 25th, 2020. 2021 was going to be a big year for me and my wife (then fiancée), as we were scheduled to be married in June. Wedding planning was underway, and as Winter turned into Spring things were looking very positive for our June wedding (vaccinations were happening, restrictions were being lifted, etc.) Then, at some point in April, things started to change for me personally. I was going to the bathroom a lot more frequently with a lot less output. Disclaimer: since being diagnosed with colon cancer, butt/poop talk has become a second language. I have no shame with it, and I hope the readers find it acceptable. I was also starting to have some pain on the left side of my abdomen. Cherry on top was finding blood in my stool.
Another backstory, in 2010 I had surgery to repair a pilonidal cyst. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. It’s disgusting. But yeah, I had that. So blood in that area of the body wasn’t abnormal for me to this point.
The stomach pain and frequent bathroom trips were becoming a concern. So in late April/early May, I went to my primary care physician to see what was up. Despite my insistence that something was going on, I was told by my doctor that my situation was probably diet-related, no GI doctor would see a 30-year-old, and was given acid reflux medication to take. I even asked my doctor “could this be cancer?”, and was promptly told no. My bloodwork, to my doctor’s knowledge, was all within range for a healthy 30 year old. I took that at face-value and went back to my life.
Two weeks later, I was still feeling the same and dealing with the same symptoms. I went back to my physician. I had lost 10 pounds (which was shockingly not a concern to my doctor) and the symptoms were not going away. I was basically told to ride this out, change my diet, and see how I feel in a few weeks. If anyone is curious, I’ll gladly provide the name of my doctor in a private message so that anyone can avoid this guy’s “services”. This advice was not good enough and I decided to take matters into my own hands; I made an appointment with a GI doctor.
At this point, it was late-May or early-June. My wife and I were scheduled to get married, in a different state, at the end of June. So stress was riding high. The gastroenterologist that I met with echoed similar words as my physician. “Very unlikely this is cancer due to my age”, “probably Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, or another version of IBS/IBD”. I was put on a special diet and given anti-inflammatory pills to take. The doctor scheduled me for a colonoscopy to check things out, but it wasn’t going to happen until August.
Well, surprise surprise, the symptoms did not go away. In fact, the symptoms were getting worse. In addition to the abdominal pain and unsightly discharge, I was getting daily fevers in the evenings and terrible leg pains. I would come home from work and be so wiped out that I would hop into bed at 6pm and not get up until the next morning. It felt like I had run a half-marathon every single afternoon. After about a week of this, it was time to go to the emergency room. A piece of advice to any young person experiencing symptoms of any kind: Go to the emergency room. Eat the insurance payment if you can and go to the emergency room. At the ER, I was able to get a CT scan of my abdomen, pelvis, and chest. After a sleepless night spent, the doctors told me I had inflammation of the colon and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. “Okay, this makes sense” I thought. I was in the typical age range of someone diagnosed with Crohn’s and my symptoms seemed to be typical for someone with Crohn’s. I was discharged from the ER and given an oral steroid to take for the foreseeable future.
The day after being discharged from the ER, and thinking this was under control and settled, I received a call from an emergency room nurse. This nurse, clearly rattled, left me a voicemail saying the hospital’s radiologist had taken another look at my scans and found what looked like a sizable tumor in my colon. The nurse recommended I see my gastroenterologist immediately for a colonoscopy. Boy, was that a fun call to receive! This was also the week before my wedding!! The next day I frantically tried to get in touch my with GI doctor. After what seemed like hundreds of calls, I was told by the GI doctor that the scans were concerning, but it could be a million different things. He encouraged me to go to my wedding, go to my honeymoon, and we will do the colonoscopy in August.
(Wedding Day, 6/26/2021)
I did just that. The wedding was perfect, and the honeymoon was a very relaxing week with my wife in Jekyll Island, GA. While on the honeymoon, however, I made a call to another gastroenterologist to see if I could be seen sooner. After explaining my symptoms and sending my scan images, I was told I would be getting a colonoscopy shortly after returning from the honeymoon. This should have been a red flag for me too, being admitted that fast. But at the time, I was just happy someone was on top of my situation.
(Sarah and I in Jekyll Island, GA)
My wife and I came home from our honeymoon on July 6th. On July 15th, I went in for my colonoscopy, naively thinking I would be patted on the back reassuringly and told it was Crohn’s disease. When I woke up, my life and entire world changed.
I’m writing this blog to share my story and experience in dealing with this nasty, nasty cancer. Never in a million years would I have guessed I would be 30 years old with stage 4 colon cancer, but here I am. Young adults need to be made aware of this cancer and its symptoms. Too often we are told colon cancer is an old-person’s disease. This is acutely inaccurate. I have met so many amazing young adults with a similar diagnosis as me, and our stories all have similarities. Go get screened. If you are having ANY symptoms, go get screened. Harass your doctor until the colonoscopy is approved. I can’t stress this enough.
I will be providing additional posts discussing my journey, highlighting my triumphs and my struggles, both of which there are many. Having cancer, and advanced-stage cancer like I have, is full of peaks and valleys. There are highs, and there are lows…extremely low lows. Negative thoughts and fear are about as painful and detrimental as the cancer itself. This is as much as a mental battle as it is physical, and the mental stuff is so hard to fight. The physical battle will be fought mostly by my medical team and doctors, I am just along for the ride. The mental battle is on me. Fear, anxiety, and negative thoughts are evil trying to make their way into me. Psalm 139 states “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” My life story was written by the Lord long before I got here. He is in my corner and knows the directions to my life. My trust is in Him and I trust His will, what is there to be afraid of with the Lord on my side?
This was the start of my journey with colon cancer, and it started on July 15th, 2021. Thank you for being here.