Harnassing Positivity Through Recovery
- Erin Vercsheure was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 18, shortly after graduating from high school.
- While the average age for women diagnosed with cancer is 72, there is a concerning trend of younger people being diagnosed with the disease.
- Erin battled back and survived, undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and blood transfusion, when blood is given through a small tube placed in the arm. She has now been in remission for five years.
- Erin is a powerful example of the incredible impact positivity can have in your recovery. Our experts saying harnassing positive thinking can help you cope with treatments, and manging your range of emotions by talking to a mental health professional can help you process the experience.
“It’s funny because if you asked my mom if she thought I would be a colon cancer advocate one day, she would laugh and say no,” Erin told SurvivorNet in a recent interview. “Right after my diagnosis, I wanted nothing to do with colon cancer … but what I didn’t realize is how much I needed to do this and how much it would heal me.”Read More
Altogether, she underwent surgery, 12 rounds of chemotherapy, blood transfusions (blood is given through a tube placed in the arm), and many other procedures and tests.
“Treatment did end up interfering with my studies,” she told SurvivorNet. She ended up skipping her entire freshman year of classes. “It was hard for me to balance cancer and trying to be a student,” she explained. “My body was tired and it was hard to sit in classes for hours with everything I had going on.”
Taking a break from college was harder than expected. The complete change in her daily routine and future plans proved difficult for Erin to accept.
Colon cancer had thrown such a wrench in her life – one minute, she had been a happy college freshman and, the next, she was undergoing numerous, painful tests and procedures.
What she wanted was to feel normal during that time period, so she decided she had to do something about it – she got a part-time job! In fact, she got two. She worked as a coffee barista and also as a waitress, which she says, helped tremendously. “I just wanted to feel like a normal teenager,” she told SurvivorNet, and working a job and being around other people helped, even when she felt sick at work on many days.
She continued her treatments and, within a year, at the age of 19, she was declared cancer-free.
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In a guest column for Fight Colorectal Cancer or Fight CRC, an advocacy group, she opened up about her journey and her battle. “Cancer has made me really proud of myself and really put my life in a positive perspective,” she wrote.
Now at the age of 25, she has been in remission for five years and living her best life, working hard to be an advocate for people suffering from the disease, especially for other teens who have had their lives turned upside down. She is a strong voice championing the cause of hope and positive thinking.
The Power of Positivity in Recovery
Part of Erin’s success in battling stage 4 colon cancer was a result of her determination to survive. “There were so many experiences I wanted to have,” she said, “and so many things I wanted to accomplish that I wasn’t going to let cancer take from me.”
“A positive attitude is really important,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet. He also emphasizes the importance of developing a sense of gratitude; that kind of mentality will help people with cancer and chronic disease handle difficult and rigorous treatments more successfully.
Erin’s friends helped her sustain that positive attitude. They were a great source of comfort in her life. “Even though they had no idea what I was going through,” she told SurvivorNet, “they tried their best and did whatever they could to make me feel like I wasn’t sick.”
Again, the important thing was that they helped her feel normal and included in their activities. “There were so many nights that I remember them coming over and playing board games and eating pizza with me.” Her friends even came over her house to sleep over, she recalls, “even though I couldn’t stay up that late anymore since my body was so tired.”
Managing Changing Emotions
Erin recalls, even now, how isolated and sad her diagnosis made her feel.
She told SurvivorNet, “Bad days are okay and we are allowed to have them, we don’t have to put on a show for everyone else because in reality this is our life and our body.”
Erin is currently an ambassador for Fight CRC; previously, she served as an ambassador for The Colon Club. In her words: “The work I get to do for these organizations are life changing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”.
When stressful life events occur — such as a devastating cancer diagnosis — it can feel overwhelming. And it’s important to know that the range of emotions you might feel is completely normal.
“People have a range of emotions when they’re diagnosed with cancer,” psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik told SurvivorNet. “And they can include fear, anger … and these emotions tend to be fluid. They can recede and return based on where someone is in the process. Going through a cancer diagnosis is just the beginning of a complicated, complicated process.”
READ MORE: “You Shouldn’t Die From Embarrassment”: Colon Cancer Can Be Prevented
Dr. Plutchik explains that as you go through this stressful event, it will be helpful to accept that emotions will be fluid. You may feel fine one day and then feel a massive wave of stress the next. It’s also important for those you look to for support — whether that’s a therapist, friends and family, or both — to understand the fluidity of stress-related emotions.
If a stressful event is affecting how you think and feel, it may be time to seek some sort of mental health treatment. This could mean traditional talk therapy, medication, changing lifestyle habits (like exercise and diet), seeking out a support group, or many other approaches.
Responding to Stress: How to Cope With Complex & Changing Emotions
More Younger People Are Getting Colon Cancer
The documented average age at the time of diagnosis for colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women, according to the American Cancer Society. For rectal cancer, it is age 63 for both men and women. But there’s a concerning trend of more and more younger people being diagnosed colorectal cancer.
Looking at the data itself, it’s easy to see why researchers are concerned.
“In contrast to decreasing CRC [colorectal cancer] incidence in older adults, rates have been increasing in adults aged 20–39 years since the mid-1980s and in those aged 40–54 years since the mid-1990s,” the report reads. “From 2011 through 2019, rates increased by 1.9% per year in people younger than 50 years and in those aged 50–54 years.
Plus, the research found an increase in people being diagnosed at more advanced stages than in the mid 1990s, before there was widespread screening.
But why the shift? According to Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist who specializes in colorectal cancers at Weill Cornell Medicine, it could be caused by variety of things.
“We don’t know for sure why we are seeing earlier onset and death from colon cancer,” Dr. Yeo told SurvivorNet. “It is likely a combination of factors, including diet and genetics as well as access to care and some environmental factors.”
Researchers are pursuing several possible theories for the shift including diet, gut bacteria and inflammation.
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