Rectal Cancer Symptoms

March is colorectal cancer awareness month and today I wanted to dedicate to symptoms. Specifically, rectal cancer symptoms. Because I did have colorectal cancer but my cancer was in the rectum, not my colon. I know this because when I was first diagnosed I remember asking, “So, this is colon cancer?” because that sounded way better than declaring to everyone I had rectal cancer. It was not in my colon, which my surgeon ever so eloquently and dryly explained to me.

If you look up ‘rectal cancer symptoms’ you will find a list to include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or more-frequent bowel movements
  • Dark maroon or bright red blood in stool
  • Narrow stool
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue

In fact, colon cancer and rectal cancer treatment can be quite different because the rectum is such a small organ that sits barely removed from other important organs, so this often makes surgery quite difficult. It has been my experience that colon cancer patients seem to have surgery first to remove the tumor, while rectal cancer patients usually undergo treatment first in hopes of shrinking the tumor before going in to remove it. I actually wrote a post about a year about that detailed all my symptoms.

Being diagnosed young had me overlooking all kinds of symptoms just because I never knew. I didn’t know anyone with colorectal cancer (close to me). It was a distant thought in my head. I had heard of colorectal cancer before, isn’t the main symptom blood in stool?? Sure, I knew something was happening but I was also moving across the country, pregnant and postpartum so figuring it out took me a little longer.

The symptoms I experienced in varying degrees were:

  1. Urgency/Constipation – This is one of the symptoms that sticks out the most for me because I definitely remember it to the year prior to diagnosis.  I know it seems odd to have these two sensations together.  Know how when you’re pregnant you have to get up and pee multiple times a night? Well, I had that except it was to poop. I would frequently get up at night and feel urgency to go and then wouldn’t be able to empty my bowels all the way.  
  2. Change in Stool  – Somewhere along the way (I can’t exactly recall) I did notice my stools begin to change shape. They were longer and thinner.  But HELLO, I was constipated, doesn’t that make sense? It’s not like my stools morphed into some seriously weird stuff, they were just a little…different. The change wasn’t alarming to me, I just chalked it up to constipation.  
  3. Weight Loss – I did steadily lose weight but I was also postpartum and breast feeding so the weight was not an alarming symptom at that time in my life. It was also very slow. Slow but steady.
  4. Anemia – In December 2017 I went to a new OB in Florida when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.  Took them about 1-2 months to call me back and tell me my routine bloodwork showed I was very anemic.  If I recall correctly, my hemoglobin level was at an eight or six, which is extremely low.  Oh, I don’t eat meat I told them! I was put on an iron supplement and my iron levels came up to normal and stayed that way throughout pregnancy.
  5. General Change in Bathroom Habits – I don’t really know how to categorize this one so we’ll leave it at this.  If I really think back I can trace to beginning to notice something being different summer 2017. I felt like I was beginning to deal with more gas, urgency , something was just different. During this time I was also smack in the middle of serious postpartum depression and drinking heavily so I also chalked these changes up to lifestyle at the time.  (Honestly, I could write a book about this period in my life, its very much a hard thing for me to talk about because I am ashamed of it).

In a nutshell, those are the symptoms I can recall experiencing prior to diagnosis. I didn’t realize how serious they were until I was smack dab in the middle of a cancer diagnosis. I had never read anything about colorectal cancer symptoms or known anyone in my life close to me who talked about it. So here I am, talking about it. It happened to me. You are never too young!

5 Tips to Reduce Your Toxic Load

Long before cancer creeped it’s way into my life (well, long before I knew it was growing inside me) I had already begun to make lifestyle changes to help to reduce my toxic load. At the time, I didn’t realize this is exactly what I was doing, I just knew I had been becoming more aware of how toxic so many things in my environment were. The processed foods, meat industry, personal care products, even baby food has been found to have high levels of arsenic! “Toxic load” refers to the accumulation of chemicals and toxins in our body that are ingested or absorbed.

I think it’s also important to point out that we are far from perfect as a family on this. No one can practice perfection in this area, it’s too hard! We make safer swaps where we can all while remembering we are human trying our best to navigate this. My kids nutrition is not perfect and I’m sure there will always be areas to clean up. Progress over perfection my friends!

Here are five ways I help to reduce our chemical exposures in our family

  1. Eat vegetarian whenever possible & buy organic fruits and vegetables

    This one is kind of a no-brainer as we’ve all heard it a hundred times. I get it, buying all organic everything isn’t financially possible and that’s when you stick to buying organic items that are on the dirty dozen list. Buy organic when you can and be sure to always thoroughly wash produce (we use a 3:1 water/vinegar solution). In addition, I always lean towards recipes that are vegetarian. Eating vegetarian is cheaper, better for the planet, your health etc. My favorite cookbooks that got me into plant based eating are The Happy Herbivore and Everyday Detox

2. Transition personal care and makeup products to safer alternatives

Our skin is our largest organ and believe it or not, we are absorbing all the products we slather onto our skin and face. I have been using Beautycounter for over a year now for my skincare and makeup products. Beautycounter delivers high performing personal care products while banning a plethora of ingredients. In addition, they are also a B Corp, meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance. I will also link a great article by one of my favorite beauty bloggers, This Organic Girl, that goes over cleaner beauty options available at Target. Cleaner, safer options are out there and I hope to continue to share all those things I come across on this platform!

3. Never wash plastsic in the dishwasher – switch over to glass storage containers instead of plastic tupperware

Did you know that back in 2018 the American Pediatric Association stated to, “avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible, don’t put plastics in the dishwasher, and use containers made from alternative materials like glass or stainless steel whenever possible.”

That means that all those cute plastic kid plates, cups, snack containers you have should never be going in the dishwasher. Ever. Even if plastic is labeled ‘dishwasher safe’, it is not. On a personal note, we do still have and use plastic kid plates and cups. I wash them by hand and yes, it is a pain in the butt. We have some stainless steel kids cups we use as well. Will slowly transition over to stainless steel but it’s a process.

4. Take care of your gut

This perhaps seems like a random one but I have never been more aware of how my own gut functions since getting my permanent colostomy. Your bowels are how your body expels waste and toxins from your own body. It’s imperative to keep them working regularly and treat them well. This means drinking a lot of water (I personally aim for a gallon a day) and basically not killing yourself with crap food. I don’t think I need to go into this further. Another huge component of this is getting adequate exercise so your gut can actually process and absorb what’s needed and expel what’s not.

5. Switch to a natural laundry detergent

After trying quite a few more natural laundry detergents I have finally found one that is unscented, comes in small recyclable packaging and actually works on kid stains and sweaty clothes, Earth Breeze laundry sheets! You can get $10 OFF your first order here. This company is great, focusing on zero waste products that actually work. Ditch the scents and opt for unscented as well. I practice this in most products, when there is an unscented version, I will grab that. The less synthetic fragrances, the better.

Small and steady action cleaning up our toxic load can go a long way in improving the health of our families! What are some of the ways your practice this in your home?

Startling Colorectal Cancer Stats You Need to Know

March 1st marks the beginning of Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and in the next few weeks I’ll use this platform to highlight my own experiences as a rectal cancer survivor in hopes that it can somehow help another person out there. Never in my wildest dreams did I think cancer would affect my own life, let alone leave me with a permanent ostomy. Here are the facts about colorectal cancer you need to know:

  • Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death
  • The American Cancer Society has recently lowered its recommended screening age to forty-five years old
  • African Americans, people with family history of colorectal cancer, history of polyps, history of undiagnosed stomach issues should seek colonoscopies much sooner
  • Early screening is key, as this is a slow-growing cancer and regular colonoscopies remove any polyps before they can turn into cancer

Probably the most startling and important fact about colorectal cancer is that it is on the rise. If you find yourself in the millenial category, your risk of rectal cancer is four times greater than people your parent’s age. Read that again: the people getting this cancer are not your parents friends, they are your best friend, your sister, your co-worker. This post isn’t about why that increase is occurring but moreover making sure this disease is no longer defined as something that affects those “fifty and older”.

Millenial’s also need to be aware that colorectal cancer in younger people is often diagnosed at much later stages due to being misdiagnosed or individuals putting off seeking treatment. We will highlight symptoms of colorectal cancer in another post but any changes at all in bathroom habits that aren’t cleared up within a week or so should be brought to your doctor’s attention. Our bodies are good at giving us indicators when something is off, but we have to be mindful and aware of our bodies natural habits. Our lives are busy and hectic but taking a moment to stay in tune with your body could greatly benefit your health.

While we’re on the topic of doctor’s and bodily functions, let’s all take a moment to remember that we’re all adults here (well, most of us…) and that everyone poops. Literally everyone. If you don’t, it will result in serious medical complications. Take this moment to realize that it’s serious to be honest with your medical providers about symptoms, even if you think they are embarrassing. I can assure you, ending up in the emergency room with a rectal exam while in writhing pain is no cakewalk either.

Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

While regular colonoscopies and screening will help prevent colorectal cancer, there are actually actions you can take yourself to lower your risk for colorectal cancer:

  1. Get screened at the appropriate time based on your personal risk factors
  2. Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much
  3. Get regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight + immune system
  4. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
  5. Take control of your mental health and find a routine that works for you

While we can all say we’ve probably heard the above statements can benefit our health, how many of us have actually put forth the effort to incorporate them into our lives? I think you’d be surprised that doing so will not only lower your risk for colorectal cancer, but greatly improve all factors of your life including but not limited to: better sleep, skin, improved mood etc.

Again, this is not a post to fear monger, but rather to put a buzz into young people’s ears that this is happening. It happened to me. It can happen to you.

Please note that I am not a doctor and any and all medical conditions should always be discussed with your own doctor and that is not google. Power and community is in sharing our experiences and knowledge.