Being diagnosed with any type of cancer is life-changing and as a 29-year-old, healthy, female with no history of cancer in my family — being diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer was literally a case for the medical books.
Data from the American Cancer Society tells us that colorectal cancer incidence rates are 30% higher in men than in women, with a larger disparity for rectal cancer than for colon cancer, 60% and 20% respectively, with the majority of cases in people over the age of 50.
My diagnosis was a lesson about the unexpected. It also speaks volumes about being mindful of generalities. Statistically, I shouldn’t have had colorectal cancer, but I did.
Hearing this unbelievable news was a moment that I will never forget. I credit my personal vigilance of my health and the support of those who love me with saving my life. The details are especially timely this month when we recognize National Cancer Survivor Month.
As with many survivor stories, there is a divide in our lives between pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis: life before and life after. For me, life before is hinged on when I thought that I was simply treating pesky hemorrhoids.
The visit to the doctor for a procedure happened to be scheduled around Valentine’s Day, which made it all the more inconvenient. When I awoke from the outpatient procedure to remove my hemorrhoids, my doctor’s solemn face caused mostly confusion. I remained focused on if the hemorrhoids were gone but was met with words like: “Stage 3”, “colorectal cancer”, “aggressive treatment plan”, “burn and scoop, no intestine removal”.
While hearing this news was surreal, I knew I’d beat this disease. In fact, hearing the news wasn’t as hard as having to tell my family and friends. I relied on my doctor do it with me for which I will forever be grateful, because I was still unsure of how to process having cancer at all.
This all happened in 2018. Many procedures, hospital stays and treatments later; today my doctors describe my cancer technically in remission! It’s slated as a 1:1, or slow growth and slow movement. But my case still requires regular follow up and attracts special guests to my consults because of its rarity in my age group.
My inherent vigilance over my health continues to come in handy, and ironically, so does my job. As a Senior IT specialist at Optum, I help doctors with their IT needs on a daily basis. One day while doing my “rounds” a casual conversation with one of the docs led to an amazing friendship and ultimately an additional advocate. And even though he is not an oncologist, sometimes when I need it, he drives me to my check-ins and is a huge supporter of mine.
We also laugh a lot and have a shared enthusiasm for World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14! I share this because if you are wondering what you can do this month to help someone who has survived cancer — know that it is the little things that matter: listening, asking questions, being a friend and simply talking to people who are facing cancer without a tone of sorrow! This is what all survivors need.
Equally important to me, is encouraging screenings! When I was diagnosed, I reached out to everyone, friends, and family alike, and urged them to get screened for colorectal cancer. I speak openly to my friends about their moles and — because the color and shape of stools can be indicators of colorectal cancer — even their poop! Being proactive could make the difference when it matters the most.
Make time this month to visit your primary care doctor because early detection is an ally if faced with an unexpected diagnosis like I was. Take care of yourself and your health!
Editor’s Note: Macie Chase is a former psychiatric nurse and currently a Senior I/O Engineering Specialist at Optum. Ms. Chase is an Arizona resident, she lives with her husband, three birds and new puppy.