Understanding Colon Cancer
- Elizabeth Wachsberg, on TikTok @mystage4story, suffered from stomach pains that went misdiagnosed for years before she was finally diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
- Wachseberg shared her cancer journey on TikTok to help her cope emotionally and spread awareness of colon cancer.
- Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects your large intestine (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum).
- The cancer starts when abnormal lumps called polyps grow in the colon or rectum. If you don’t have these polyps removed, they can turn into cancerous polyps.
- The National Cancer Institute reports that since the 1990s colorectal cancer cases have been rising among adults younger than 50.
For Elizabeth Wachsberg, 38, having stomach pains was a part of her normal life – but the symptom went misdiagnosed by doctors for years. Finally, after not being able to stand from the pain, tests revealed what was causing her problems: stage 4 colon cancer.
Now, she’s sharing lessons she’s learned with others impacted by colon cancer on her increasingly popular TikTok channel @mystage4story.Read More
The doctor recommended she get a colonoscopy to confirm her condition. A colonoscopy is a procedure used to screen for colon cancer and other diseases by looking inside the colon. However, before Wachsberg could get the procedure, her doctor left her insurance network.
Wachsberg was left to seek out a different doctor. The second doctor also suspected IBS and suggested she take an antibiotic for six months. This physician didn’t think she needed a colonoscopy.
Wachsberg then sought a third opinion, something our experts recommend doing if you think your concerns aren’t being addressed properly.
This third doctor wanted Wachsberg to get a colonoscopy to rule out digestive diseases. However, her medical insurance would not cover the procedure because, at 37, she was younger than the recommended age of 45 to begin colonoscopies.
@mystage4story #mystage4story #stage4cancer #stage4coloncancer #coloncancer #cancer #coloncancerawareness #getchecked ♬ som original – SUZY SANTOS
Over time, her symptoms worsened. Pain in her side and bloody stools prompted her to continue seeking answers.
In March 2019, she “woke up in the most pain I’ve ever been in in my entire life,” she recalled.
She had a colonoscopy scheduled and received a CT scan, which finally provided some much-needed answers.
“‘You have a tumor in your colon and spots on your liver and you have to go to the hospital,” Wachsberg remembered her doctor saying.
After she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, she soon began treatment, which included three rounds of chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the tumor in her colon and liver.
“Stage 3 is often when its spread outside the colon…I had colon cancer in my liver and that’s what made it stage 4. Anytime it spreads from its origin it’s stage 4,” Wachsberg explained in a TikTok video.
@mystage4story Replying to @bigbaaanks #mystage4story #coloncancer #coloncancerawareness #coloncancerawarenessmonth #stage4 #colonoscopysaveslives #march #colonoscopy ♬ original sound – My Stage 4 Story
By July 2019, her treatments proved successful, because her cancer was declared in remission.
Throughout her cancer journey, she shared her progress on her TikTok channel. While online, she found a community among other people battling colon cancer.
“Every time I would make a video, people would comment,” she said.
“All these people would start writing about all the people they knew that had been affected by colon cancer. And then you have other people saying they didn’t know younger people could get colon cancer,” she continued.
After Wachsberg completed her cancer treatments, she learned life after cancer can be one of the toughest parts of the cancer journey. She admitted she suffered from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after finishing treatment.
PTSD is “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event,” according to the American Psychiatric Association.
@mystage4story Seeing what happens if I post this a bit later in the day since I think it’s important. #mystage4story #stage4cancer #coloncancer #trauma #ptsd #anxiety #therapy #postcancer #aftercancer #cancer ♬ original sound – My Stage 4 Story
“You’re on a very regimented schedule then all of a sudden…your doctors send you back out into life that doesn’t exist anymore,” Wachsberg said in a TikTok video.
Wachsberg’s TikTok channel is helping her connect with others on their colon cancer journeys.
“My brother got colon cancer at 35…My friend got colon cancer at 27,” Wachsberg shared, highlighting the impact the cancer is having on a growing number of young people.
Throughout her posts, she shares information about the importance of colonoscopy exams for younger people.
Understanding Colon Cancer
Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects your large intestine (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum).
Most colon cancers can be prevented if people are regularly screened. The screening usually involves a colonoscopy, in which a long thin tube attached to a camera is used to examine the colon and rectum. If no polyps are discovered, the next screening won’t be needed for about 10 years.
The cancer starts when abnormal lumps called polyps grow in the colon or rectum. If you don’t have these polyps removed, they can turn into cancerous polyps. It takes up to 10 years for a colon polyp to become full-blown cancer, according to SurvivorNet experts.
“We know that colon cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early,” Dr. Heather Yeo told SurvivorNet.
The American Gastrointestinal Association lowered the recommended initial age for a colorectal screening from 50 to 45.
Colon cancer symptoms may include:
- Change in bowel movement
- Bloody stool
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling the bowel does not empty completely
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant abdominal pain or cramps
WATCH: How to approach colon cancer treatment?
Expert Colon Cancer Reosurces
Colon Cancer Appearing More in Younger People
The average age people are diagnosed with colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women, according to the American Cancer Society. However, Wachsberg is among a growing trend of younger people getting the disease.
The National Cancer Institute reports that since the 1990s colorectal cancer cases have been rising among adults younger than 50. Research published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians found the proportion of cases in people younger than 55 years old “increased from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019.”
“We know rates are increasing in young people, but it’s alarming to see how rapidly the whole patient population is shifting younger, despite shrinking numbers in the overall population,” cancer epidemiologist and lead study author Rebecca Siegel said.
Researchers are still trying to determine why younger people are being diagnosed in greater numbers. Some experts point to risk factors which include obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking as a possible explanation for the increase.
“We don’t know for sure why we are seeing earlier onset and death from colon cancer,” Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist who specializes in colorectal cancers at Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet.
“It is likely a combination of factors, including diet and genetics as well as access to care and some environmental factors,” Dr. Yeo added.
Questions for Your Doctor
- Based on my symptoms, should I have a colonoscopy?
- My insurance won’t cover my colonoscopy – do I have any other testing options?
- I’m struggling to pay my medical bills. Are there resources available to help me?
- What are my treatment options for my colon cancer?
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