In January I decided 2019 was MY year. I was turning 40 in May and I was determined that 40 was going to be awesome. Step one – lose weight. I’d been creeping up in pounds the last few years (my love of white wine and craft cocktails certainly were part of the problem) and I wanted to be a specific weight by my birthday. Weight Watchers had been a great plan for me in the past so I joined again and started counting those points. The pounds fell off. I stopped drinking – the scale went down faster. I started cheating on my points a bit – the pounds were still falling off. I was rocking Weight Watchers – why hadn’t it been this easy before? I must just be awesome at this. Goal weight reached by March 1. Let’s just keep going I said to myself, why stop? 20 Pounds off by St. Patrick’s Day.
Ok, so anyone who’s done Weight Watchers before may think “20 pounds in 3 months? That sounds reasonable and perfectly healthy” and I of course thought that myself. Once diagnosed every doctor I spoke to asked if I had noticed any unusual weight loss. “no,” I told them “I’ve been actively trying to lose weight. I didn’t think anything of it”. Now looking back and really being honest with how much I was cheating on the program there’s no way I should have lost that amount of weight so quickly.
The purpose of this confession is that Colon Cancer’s symptoms are sneaky. Looked at individually there are about 100 explanations for each of them but as a whole you look back and say “Oh!!! that’s why!” Here’s a fun list of those tricky little symptoms:
Rectal bleeding/ Blood in stool: This should have been the symptom made my doctor send me for a colonoscopy. In about 2013 I visited my PCP for the first time concerning bleeding. At that time I was 34 and had delivered 3 children vaginally. One of those children (the middle one who’s giant head shall remain nameless) was an especially difficult delivery that caused all sorts of issues in my entire southern region. After reviewing my history the doctor considered my age and the fact that I was ONLY having that one symptom at the time. He did an exam with a small scope and took a look around “up there”. I remember him saying ” I don’t see anything that causes me concern – I don’t see anything like cancer”. He went on to explain that childbirth does crazy things to our rears and he did see some hemorrhoids that were most likely the cause. In his defense in 2013 the screening age for colon cancer was set at 50, it’s only recently been lowered to 45. There is no way that my insurance company would have paid for a colonoscopy that would have probably cost about $3000 out of pocket. It just isn’t standard operating procedure to send a 34 year old woman to get a colonoscopy. Looking back I most certainly already had the tumor at that time or at least a cancerous polyp. Had I gone for a colonoscopy, it would have been found.
A change in bowel habits: This is a fun one! (no it’s not). Some days you are in the bathroom all day long, some weeks you only go twice. Sorry to be graphic but I used to call them “poop days” because I could go days without going at all and then a day would come along in the week where I was going 5, 6, 7 times. They’re also all sorts of fun shapes, colors, consistencies….. Poop is a like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Right about now you’re probably saying to yourself :
- “Rachel, that is TMI. No one needs to know THAT much about you” (I’m sure my mother is saying that right now) and..
- “Rachel, you dumb-dumb. That’s obvious that something was wrong. Normal people go once, maybe twice a day like clock work and it’s usually shaped like Mr. Hanky The Christmas Poo.
In response to your inner dialogue; I get it. Poop is gross. A lady never discusses her bodily functions, especially on the internet. A high school friend believed as a child that women never pooped. Here’s the thing though, because it’s such a taboo subject most people DON’T know what’s normal and what seems completely abnormal may be perfectly normal for someone. That leads me to my second response: I’ve NEVER been “normal” or at least what is explained as normal on Dr. Google. I’ve had IBS most of my adult life, my siblings ALL have digestive issues and I have never been what most people would consider “regular”. Every single day was a “change in bowel habits” for me. I guess that if I started having regular visits from Mr. Hanky every day at 3:00 like clockwork, maybe then I would have noticed something was different.
Abdominal pain, gas and bloating. This gem didn’t appear until maybe Thanksgiving of 2018. My stomach hurt, I had indigestion, I burped A LOT. What could it be? Probably the same thing everyone else my age was going through… time for a Prilosec a day just like every other nearly middle aged person out there. I gave up the white wine, that seemed to help.
Weight Loss. We’ve already gone over my amazing shrinking woman trick attributed to Oprah and Weight Watchers.
Fatigue: I should have noticed. I should have seen something was wrong. At Christmas time I started sleeping A LOT. I could not go a day without a nap. My sister in law even told my husband “that’s not normal”. I “knew” why I was so tired. I was just coming down from my busy season as a wedding and family photographer and working about 60 hours per week – it was time to catch up on sleep. When I never could “catch up” I admitted to myself it was time to seek out help, but I attributed it to the wrong affliction. Nearly every winter I go through a depressed period and have for years. I visited the doctor to get back on antidepressants and started visiting a therapist.
A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely. This never happened to me.
So there you have it…. every symptom of colon cancer given by our friends at Web MD. I had a reasonable explanation for every one of them. Being a relatively young woman I (and my doctor) had no reason to suspect the worst but I do want to put my experience out there so that if you are having any of these – ESPECIALLY THE BLEEDING, press further. Don’t just accept the easy explanation if you feel like something just isn’t right.