Advocate for Your Health
- A 42-year-old woman was diagnosed with bowel cancer (colorectal cancer) in 2019 after almost a year of going back and forth to her doctor with symptoms that were dismissed as heartburn and hemorrhoids.
- Her long, hard battle with colorectal cancer has motivated her to educate people on bowel cancer and encourage them to look for signs of the disease, no matter their age.
- Colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years in the United States, according to one of our experts, and the main contributing factor is screenings such as colonoscopies. But it’s as important to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer.
Pauline Worthington, 42, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2019, but it took almost a year of various trips to her doctor to get to her correct diagnosis.Read More
“I was given tablets for the symptoms when I went to the [general practitioner], but things started getting progressively worse until I started noticing blood in my stool,” she told The Sun.
She continued to bring her health issues to her doctor time and time again, but the doctor thought she had hemorrhoids and never saw a need for concern. The final straw was when doctors found abnormalities in a stool sample. She knew she needed further medical attention, so she insisted on a referral to see a specialist.
Eventually, she had a colonoscopy, and doctors found growths in her bowel that required a bowel resection surgery in December 2019.
But, unfortunately, her cancer had spread. She began more treatment in February 2020, and was able to remove the cancerous spots with liver resection in June. She was hoping for a successful surgery, but seven weeks later doctors discovered the return of cancer in her liver which required chemotherapy.
Worthington has had a long, hard battle with bowel cancer, but her struggles have motivated her to try to make a difference in the health of other people. She’s convinced her age played a big part in why it took so long to get diagnosed, so she’s trying to raise awareness for bowel cancer and remind people that anyone can develop the disease no matter their age.
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In an Instagram post, Worthington shared a picture of her and nine other women of all different ages encouraging followers to “talk about poo.”
“Know your body… Bowel cancer has no boundaries or age,” she wrote. “Looking at the picture you wouldn’t know one of us has Bowel cancer #nevertooyoung check your poo.”
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, but generally we use the term colorectal cancer in the United States.
Colorectal cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Dr. Yeo also reminds people of the importance of colorectal screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Looking for Polyps During Colonoscopy
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but these are possible symptoms to look out for:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Advocating for Your Health
Whether you are currently battling cancer or worried that you might have it, it’s always important to advocate for your health. Cancer is an incredibly serious disease, and you have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer – a lesson we can all learn from Pauline Worthington.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
I Wanted My Doctor To Like Me, Then He Missed My Breast Cancer
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
One thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes its essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.