I get asked ALL. THE. TIME. What my symptoms were that lead me to think something was wrong. People are always surprised that “someone so young” has rectal cancer. When I first shared my diagnosis on Facebook to family and friends (and acquaintances, haha) I started getting texts, emails and messages asking me how I knew something was wrong. Any time I go to a doctor appointment or have blood work done or have some other medical visit, the nurses or techs always ask me what my symptoms were & how I knew something was wrong. People are just shocked to find out that someone under 40 has (had) rectal cancer. It’s usually thought of as a cancer older people get. I’m almost always the youngest person in the waiting room. In fact, my first rectal surgeon told me I am the youngest patient she’s ever had. Unfortunately more & more young adults are being diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer though. And it’s shocking and it’s scary and it makes people realize it could be them. Also, I don’t mind answering questions or sharing my story. Maybe it will help someone else out there who is just starting their own journey with cancer (so much love to you). I am going to share a post that I wrote on my other blog in April 2016, shortly after being diagnosed. It shares how I knew that something was wrong and what my symptoms were that took me to the doctor. Again, my message is simple-if something, anything, doesn’t seem quite right please go to your doctor. The sooner the better!
How did you know something was wrong?
I figured I should address this question because I have been asked this quite a bit. Sorry if there is a little too much information in this post. Unfortunately the area where my cancer is lends itself to some awkward or uncomfortable language. But, that’s just how it goes.
Let me start by saying that I have had hemorrhoids since I had Aidynn (my second daughter). They bother me off and on, but really have never been a big problem. This past summer I started to have some pain after going poop. (I will say poop, it’s what we say around here and sounds less formal than “bowel movement.”) It didn’t happen every time I went poop, just occasionally. And it wasn’t bad pain, just a mild pain. I didn’t have any trouble going poop, I am very regular that way, but the pain would come anywhere from 5-45 minutes after I had gone to the bathroom. And I didn’t have any blood…at least not at first, that started a few months later. I honestly just thought it was my hemorrhoids acting up again. I had birthed 3 babies after all so it didn’t seem abnormal. Then the pain wouldn’t happen for a couple of weeks. Well, by the fall it was happening more frequently. And by November it was happening often enough and getting more painful enough to where I called my doctor for an appointment.
I went to my general practitioner on December 1, 2015. I explained what had been going on. She did a digital exam (yes, that means finger exam up my butt, yes it’s as awful as it sounds) and she said she could feel an internal hemorrhoid. She said since it’s internal she was referring me to the gastroenterologist.
I met with the gastroenterologist in January (medical referrals and scheduling appointments take forever, it’s very frustrating). He also did an exam and determined that the location of my pain was a small, hard mass that is in the spot where internal hemorrhoids are usually found. But it felt harder than a hemorrhoid feels, so he set me up for a colonoscopy.
I had the colonoscopy on January 29, 2016. The prep really stinks, but the actual procedure was no big deal. And the report from that seemed good. My colon was clear. No tumors or polyps found. That was great news! There was only the spot in my rectum, right before my anus that looked abnormal. (Are some of these words making you uncomfortable yet?) So he biopsied the area. And the results from his biopsy came back saying that it was scar tissue. Ok, that seemed strange…scar tissue in my butt? So he referred me to a rectal surgeon for further investigation. I still wasn’t very worried though.
We finally met with the rectal surgeon on February 22nd. By now my symptoms had gotten a lot worse. I was now uncomfortable a lot of the time when sitting and the pain was getting worse. I was having some bleeding when going poop now as well. I was ready for this surgeon to say she was just going to go in there, cut off this mass & then I could go about my life. The surgeon, however, had other plans. She told us that the biopsy the gastroenterologist had done was no good. It was inconclusive. So she told us she would have to do her own biopsy. Say what?! The soonest we could get that scheduled was for March 23rd. Have I mentioned how frustrating it is to have to wait so long for referrals to be approved & appointments to be scheduled? Especially when you’re dealing with pain every day. It had now been 4 months since I originally went to my primary doctor about pain.
On March 23rd I went in for the “surgery.” The doctor said it was a biopsy, but then the nurse and schedulers kept calling it a surgery. Now, nobody prepared me for this surgery. The doctor had made it seem like no big deal, a simple outpatient procedure. The procedure itself wasn’t bad, they knocked me out. But when I woke up I was so nauseous and in a lot of pain and then started to throw up. It was horrible! Finally the anti-nausea and pain meds started working and I was able to go home. I’ll spare you all of the gory details, but the recovery was not fun. It was the worst pain I have ever had in my entire life. It was at least a week before I even left the house. I was not prepared for that at all. I really wish the doctor had gone over the procedure a little bit more thoroughly with me. I had just assumed it would be easy like the biopsy during the colonoscopy. Lesson learned for me too-always ask the details even if you think you know what will be happening.
And on top of being in pain during recovery, we were told it would take 7-10 business days to get the biopsy results back. Let the waiting game begin…
*To continue reading and hear the results of the biopsy, click here.
*For more information about colorectal cancer, such as signs and symptoms, check out the American Cancer Society website, click here.