Something’s afoot. I’ve gotten multiple messages today asking about the symptoms that lead me to my stage III rectal cancer diagnosis. And I think this is important information to share.
So why don’t I just spell it out here? Buckle up for some poop talk!!
In late 2015, I started to have more urgent poops. I’d get the urge to go and I’d take off like a shot to the potty. I always made it, but there were some close calls. Around that time I also began to notice the sensation that I never quite emptied my rectum, either; I’d finish pooing but it felt like there was more in there that needed out. I had skinny poo–like, the diameter was smaller than normal.
I also lost some weight. This was a sneaky sign because I was actually trying to lose a little weight at the time, and was fiddling with my diet and exercise so that as my weight dropped 1-3 pounds per week, I wasn’t surprised. In retrospect, I attribute some of my weight loss to my diet/exercise, and some to the growing cancer.
All of that was quite gradual. Each symptom became more noticeable over the course of several (2? 5?) months. I was still adjusting to postpartum life (I think my symptoms began around my baby’s first birthday in October) so noticing my own physical needs and sensations and just fuckin wrapping my head around the concept of time was pretty challenging.
Then, in early 2016, I began to notice some bloody, mucus-y output. Not every time I went, and maybe not even daily. But every so often, I’d notice some pink-red blood that didn’t look quiiiite hemorrhoid-y. Also, snot? That’s weird.
I’m very glad I talked with my doc. I have a straight-shooting no-nonsense conventional internal medicine PCP, and I’m so glad she listened and referred me to GI. I’m so glad the gastroenterologist I saw ordered a colonoscopy. I had that colonoscopy on Friday the 13th of May, 2016.
The incidence of colorectal cancers in younger adults is increasing, and it’s not due to better detection. In fact, most younger folks are diagnosed at later stages than folks over 50. Many providers have historically approached younger patients with rectal bleeding with lines like, “oh, you’re so young, it’s probably hemorrhoids/whatever, not cancer, so we can defer the colonoscopy.” THAT’S NO LONGER SOUND CLINICAL DECISIONMAKING.
I’ve noticed that there are three main ways that people ask me about the symptoms that started the party.
- With genuine concern and curiosity about the experience (an attempt to connect).
- From a space of vulnerability and concern about their own symptoms and risk (also an attempt to connect).
- With fear and a desire to confirm that we are in fact quite different and distant, and this could never happen to them (an attempt to separate).
Regardless of where the question comes from, I’ll always answer it. And for the love of cheese, if you are having any sort of weird symptom anywhere that makes you want to ask me what MY cancer symptoms were, CALL YOUR PCP!!!!!
I’m always a little sad for the person who asks out of that third space (one can tell). Because we’re not separate. Anyone’s life can be turned upside down at any moment. Accurate cliche: It. Can. Happen. To. Anyone.
Which must mean, in fact, that there’s nothing wrong with me for having gotten that cancer. That I have nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do you. I can be free to be an organism, a living being with a body with all sorts of idiosyncrasies. Due to and in spite of my conditions, I am whole, and connected to all.
This experience has taught me about the power in leaning into that connection. Showing up here is one way for me to do that. Thanks for joining me.