So is this…colon cancer or rectal cancer?

Gosh, I still so vividly remember sitting in my surgeon’s office at MD Anderson Cancer Center. I had already been diagnosed at my local hospital and had traveled to a larger center to get a second opinion. My initial staging showed that the tumor had grown through the rectal wall and jutted into my posterior vaginal wall. It was also detected in my lymph nodes. My first meeting with my surgeon entailed a very invasive physical examination and extensive conversations that included a lot of drawings. I wish I still had them!

After we had been in that meeting for quite some time, I asked, “So, is this colon cancer or rectal cancer?” I honestly did not know. The drawings got confusing. She replied, “The tumor is not located in your colon, it’s located in your rectum.” Hmmm. Not the answer I was hoping for. I guess none of this was the answer I was hoping for.

Colorectal Rectal Cancer Awareness

Since my diagnosis exactly 809 days ago, I’ve made a commitment that I’m not going to let the shame and embarrassment stop me from advocating for other young people. My name is Catherine and I am a colorectal rectal cancer survivor!

What’s the big deal you may ask? Well, actually, the cancers are in fact different.

In a nutshell, rectal cancers can sometimes be more difficult to treat because of the small nature of the area. Also, fun fact, your rectum does not have this protective layer your colon does (the serosa) so it’s easier for the tumor to break through and spread…just like it did in my body.

No matter how you slice it, colorectal cancer is on the rise as a whole. The treatments and procedures for them do differ slightly though.

Additionally, just the stigma of rectal cancer altogether. Who wants to talk about their bathroom issues? I get it, I do. It could just save your life though. I cannot stress enough that while I did realize something was going on, I also was floored to be diagnosed at stage 3C because I was still functioning well. I was living my life, working out, taking care of my kids. All with this monster growing inside of me.

Treatment options for colon and rectal cancer differ also. It’s common that rectal cancer surgery will be last. This is called neoadjuvant therapy! The chemotherapy and radiation aim to shrink the tumor to make surgery in such a delicate area easier. There are even watch and wait options that patients do now and avoid surgery altogether! This isn’t an option for more advanced rectal cancers typically but how great for some patients to avoid surgery altogether!

They are even continuing to research differences between cancers in the left side of the colon versus the right. It’s pretty amazing to think of the headway they’ve made in even the last decade with colorectal cancers.

Remember that colorectal cancer is preventable with regular screenings (if you are 45 or older) and paying attention to your body! I will not die of embarrassment! I don’t want you to either!

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