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Colon cancer rise among young adults ages 20-49: Here are their stories

San Francisco — March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors cannot stress enough the importance of screening. This recommendation is 45 years old, but in some cases it can be made earlier.

“31 weeks pregnant on my husband’s birthday,” that’s when Amanda Webb found out she had stage 4 colon cancer. She was only 37 years old.

“I was cared for, and my baby was taken care of. I started chemotherapy the next week. A chemo port was placed and I did three rounds of chemo to start intra-patient treatment while I was pregnant.”

She added, “All I can think about is that I want to be there for the baby. Thank God I responded so well to treatment. The tumors shrank with chemotherapy. I delivered my baby by caesarean section about three weeks ago.”

Her son, Levi, was born healthy.

After surgery and more chemotherapy, there is no sign of cancer. However, Amanda has to have a CT scan every three months.

But some colon cancers are more aggressive than others. Case in point, Mariana Jantos Woll who was also pregnant and very young.

“She was diagnosed at 37, and she wasn’t eligible for a colonoscopy at that point,” explained Janice Gantos, who remembers her sister was in a lot of pain.

more: Colon cancer is on the rise among young Americans, but new technology is helping those who start screening early

“They made the decision to deliver the baby, clear the sepsis and remove the part of the colon that had cancer,” Gantos said.

Despite this, Mariana died one year after she was initially diagnosed.

There are a number of risk factors for colon cancer.

“We’re exposed to a diet that’s high in sugar and higher in processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle and obesity are also factors,” explained Dr. Kathryn Van Loon, MD, of the UCSF Diller Family Compensive Cancer Center.

But none of these have ever applied to Amanda and Mariana.

“She exercised, ate well, and took care of herself,” Marina’s sister reveals.

Amanda, the second patient, is a marathon runner. She advises everyone to look out for the symptoms.

“They can’t be afraid to talk about having a bowel movement, they can’t let doctors dismiss their symptoms, they need to know the symptoms,” she explained.

“Changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, tight stools, unexplained anemia or iron deficiency,” added Dr. Van Loon.

Another of her asymptomatic patients was Jamie Comer. A routine blood test found elevated liver enzymes.

“I was told I had stage IV colon cancer that had metastasized to the liver and that I had 45 tumors on my left side and 12 on my right side and that I would likely die within three to six months,” Kummer said. She was diagnosed in 2016. At that time, the recommended age for a colonoscopy was 50, and she was only 47 years old.

“The power of having children. I had an 8-year-old who didn’t have permission to go,” Kummer said.

She asked us to record her chemotherapy session because she wanted everyone to know the potential effects of not getting tested.

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She is in a room by herself at the University of California, San Francisco.

“The total time spent here is anywhere from 8 to 11 hours. I’m on chemotherapy for three days every two weeks,” Kummer explained.

Chemotherapy takes a huge toll.

“Low energy, vague nausea and I feel my guts burning. I feel hot.”

more: A childhood cancer survivor now a doctor at the hospital saved her life

Kummer says she is alive today because of an infusion pump implanted in her abdomen that delivers chemotherapy directly to her liver.

“UCSF is practically the only hospital on the West Coast that does this. It’s a transplant pump, and you fill it with medication with a very large needle,” she tells us, pointing to the area in her stomach where the pump is located.

“If you think having a colonoscopy is annoying and time-consuming, I mean it’s nothing compared to having chemotherapy for the rest of your life. I think people don’t realize that it’s not just a test, but being able to do it for your family,” Comer reminds us.

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