Rozanne Prisament, Diagnosed at Age 50

I had absolutely no risk factors for colorectal cancer and had a healthy lifestyle, eating right, exercising, and getting at least eight hours of sleep. Although I rarely went to a doctor, preferring alternative remedies, I went to a general practitioner when the abdominal pain began. To my dismay the complaint was casually dismissed. Ten years later, still in pain and now bleeding rectally, I saw a different doctor, who also dismissed the complaint, telling me it was “nothing to worry about.”

I believed strongly in the body’s ability to heal and decided to just wait for the symptoms to go away. With three kids, three elderly parents, and a career, I did not have the luxury to spend time pursuing yet another misdiagnosis. But the symptoms did not go away—they only grew worse—and I became very seriously ill. Desperate, I sought out the opinion of a gastroenterologist.

The colorectal cancer was diagnosed in five minutes with a colonoscopy. I will never forget the feeling, after the tumor was removed, of what it was like to be pain-free again. Women today lead hectic lives with overwhelming demands on our time. But our health has to be our top priority. We are fortunate to live in a country where diagnostic tools, like the colonoscopy, are available to us. Colorectal cancer is a real disease with real victims. It attacks healthy people, both men and women. Put aside all of your excuses and get screened before symptoms develop!

Jessica Roca, Diagnosed at Age 27

About three years ago, I started experiencing issues with digestion. At first it was only fried foods that seemed to bother me, but it soon escalated to just about anything I ate. I went to my doctor, and she said that it was just a stomach virus going around and could take about two to four weeks to go away, so I waited. A few weeks passed, and I was still experiencing some abdominal discomfort and would get nauseated after eating, so I went back to my doctor; she gave me antibiotics and said that perhaps it was a bacterial infection. Three months later I went back again because I was experiencing headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue. While I was there, she took blood and urine to test. The tests revealed anemia and a urinary tract infection (UTI), so I was given antibiotics for the UTI and iron to take for the anemia, which would also help control the diarrhea. My blood also showed some thyroid inconsistencies, so I was referred to an endocrinologist for further testing, but all tests came back negative.

By this point I had been experiencing almost a year of intestinal symptoms, but my diarrhea had turned into constipation. I went to a different doctor, and she said that my digestive problems and weight gain were a result of stress; she prescribed Ambien® [zolpidem tartrate] to help me rest and told me to take up a hobby to help combat my daily stresses. A few months later, I was feeling so badly I didn’t even want to get out of bed. I felt as though I had the flu at least once per month. I was extremely tired, and the constipation and nausea had become so bad that I didn’t even want to look at food.

I went to yet another doctor, and she told me that all of my symptoms were a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. I joined a gym, exercising three to five times per week and started Weight Watchers to help guide my high-fiber/high-protein diet. Still I felt horrible. The constipation worsened, and my stomach was so bloated I looked eight months’ pregnant. I started taking laxatives every two weeks to help relieve the pain, and I went to another doctor to address the mucous and blood that were now in my stool. Her answer was to stop eating carbohydrates and to step up my exercising to daily, so I did. Finally, my insurance changed, so I was forced to choose another doctor and thank God I did. When I told him about my tummy troubles, he insisted that I see a gastroenterologist to check it all out. He said that because I was so young, it might not be anything too serious but he would rather I get checked out anyway.

On my initial visit to the gastroenterologist in September 2005, I was given a rectal exam and told that the rectal bleeding may be a sign of hemorrhoids, but he wanted to do a colonoscopy to be sure. The results of the colonoscopy showed that I had a large tumor growing in my colon, and the biopsy results determined I had Stage III colon cancer. In October I went for immediate surgery to remove the tumor and part of my colon. Eight weeks later I began aggressive chemotherapy for six months, which finally ended this June. It has now been a year from my diagnosis, and I am just beginning to wrap my head around everything that happened to me. I feel like it all happened so fast, yet so slow, but I am just thankful that the cancer was finally caught; otherwise, I probably would not be alive today.

Sometimes I think if only I had been pushy and insisted on more or different tests, I would not have lost so much time and I would be one step closer to healthy than I am now, but I cannot think like that. I have to be grateful for all the doctors who have helped me through this from diagnosis to recovery and thankful to God for continuing to give me life as well as giving me the best mother in the whole world. My mother has shown me love and patience every day of my life, and I know that without her I wouldn’t have made it through this most challenging chapter in my life.

During chemotherapy I felt like I just wanted to die so I could be done with all of the painful and sickening side effects, but now I feel it was all worth it. One thing I tell people now is: You are your own body’s advocate. Only you know your body, and if you feel like there is something wrong, get it checked out. Don’t be afraid to ask for more tests. It could be nothing, but it’s better to know. I just completed my follow-up colonoscopy and blood work, which I passed with flying colors.

Although I was misdiagnosed for two years, this past year has blessed me with a wonderful team of doctors and an amazing mother to whom I, literally, owe my life. I’ve started back to work, to exercising, and, most important, to living.