“It’s probably IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or internal hemorrhoids, but let’s get a colonoscopy just to be sure,” my physician said. It wasn’t IBS or internal hemorrhoids. It was stage IV colorectal cancer that had metastasized to 27 places in my body. It was the last thing anyone ever expected for a health-conscious, young, athletic woman with no family history. Thank goodness my PCP took this step, or else I would be dead.
A colonoscopy saved my life. During the summer of 2014, I was having severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, and fatigue. But since I was working full time and traveling with my job as well as raising two young sons (10 and 8 at the time – my younger son has multiple disabilities and special needs), I really didn’t have time to be sick or see a doctor. I tolerated these symptoms for probably six months before they just became unbearable. I was also looking forward to a combination 15-year anniversary/birthday trip to Bermuda with my husband, but I figured I should see a doctor and “get this out of the way” first.
I was awakened from my colonoscopy by a gastroenterologist who told me that the tumor in my rectum was so large that he couldn’t get the scope around it to see the rest of my colon. “It is most likely cancer,” he said. “Cancer?” I asked, “How does that even happen? I do everything right.” It was utterly unfair to a person who watched friends and neighbors smoke cigarettes and drink beer while she jogged up and down the street after eating a salad for dinner. The real slap in the face was when I received my PET scan results on my 44th birthday – September 17, 2014; the diagnosis was stage IV colorectal cancer, and my prognosis was not good. And by not good, I mean I was not expected to live. The long awaited Bermuda trip was postponed, possibly forever.
Four years, 55 chemotherapies, two surgeries (one of which was an emergency to repair internal bleeding from the first one which caused me to code), and CyberKnife radiation later, I did live – and in fact, have no evidence of disease (NED) in my body currently. Pick a description: A) miracle, B) exceptional responder, C) lucky, or D) all of the above, I am it. As much as how or why I contracted stage IV colon cancer is a mystery, so too is how or why I am beating it. One thing is for sure – that I maintained the same hard-core, health conscious habits that I always had throughout my treatment. And I am the toughest, most positive, most headstrong chick you will ever meet. My cancer fighting alter ego is “Big Stace.” It has a little bit to do with my 5’11” stature, but more to do with my larger-than-life presence, meaning I pour 1000% of myself and my energy into everything I do, the people I meet, and the tasks I undertake.
So now, Big Stace has taken her mad survivorship skills to the Colon Cancer Coalition, a non-profit organization that focuses on prevention, screening, and early detection of colorectal cancer, specifically in the younger population. I yell at, I mean, gently remind people to be screened for colon cancer. And when I speak to folks over 50 who haven’t had a colonoscopy, I tell them to “unfriend me” until they do.
Stacy Hurt with Greg Simon, President of Biden Cancer Initiative,
and Sarah DeBord, Communications & Program Manager at the Colon Cancer Coalition
Quite frankly, it really bugs me that the media, comedians, and the public at large vilify and sensationalize colonoscopies like they are the most awful experiences ever, which in turn causes physicians to avoid recommending them and misdiagnosing. Do you want to know the most awful experience ever? Having poison pumped into your veins and feeling so nauseous and sick that you can’t move. I would take 10 colonoscopies over chemotherapy any day of the week! You do a prep for a colonoscopy, poop all night, and then get a ride home after some anesthesia. Is that so hard?
Stacy Hurt, survivor
So I’m here to tell you that a colonoscopy is still the gold standard for anyone over 50 and anyone under 50 experiencing symptoms like mine or has a family history. Don’t analyze, stigmatize, rationalize, or dramatize a colonoscopy – just do it. It may save your life.