How could you bleed for so long and not say anything? How could you be diagnosed with stage III colon cancer at just 17-years-old? How does this happen? Doctors told me at the time I was one of the very few teens in the U.S. to ever be diagnosed with this form of cancer.
I can’t speak for everyone who’s been diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer, but I can tell you how it happened for me. And I’m not going to say it’s because of my genetic disorder called Lynch syndrome that puts me at a higher risk for cancers – especially colorectal cancer.
Yes, my genetics play a part – a big part I’m not trying to minimize. But what’s behind my cancer story is something so fundamental to all 7 billion of us – it’s a root I can’t deny.
“I was afraid … so I hid.”
I didn’t coin those words first – they go way back to the first days of creation. But over the years as I’ve gotten honest with myself and my story, there’s no other way to explain how I could be diagnosed with stage III colon cancer just a few weeks after my 17th birthday.
You wouldn’t have known I was a master at hiding from the outside. My safe, suburban neighborhood boasting excellent schools and extracurricular activities seemed ideal, not to mention my active involvement in youth group. Yet what seems picture-perfect is rarely that way; there’s often hurt and pain behind the doors of the house, church and school that’s driving the need to cover.
This was certainly the case for me.
My rule-following personality forbid me from drowning myself in extreme vices to manage my fears and pains. So, I did something that comes fundamental to all of us Adam and Eve descendants – I hid.
I hid stories. I hid questions and concerns. I hid my emotions and anxieties. Going through treatment felt like six years, but in actuality was around six months, and I went back to school and carried out my senior year and graduated.
In the years that followed I went to college, got married, started a career, bought a house, helped plant a church and adopted a baby -- “normal” life stuff that kept my mind busy and my heart preoccupied. Except in addition to all of that, I faced a second round of colon cancer at age 25. Luckily a colonoscopy found it early (stage I) and surgery was the only treatment required.
My second diagnosis didn’t just disrupt “normal” life for me yet again, but it jolted me into a more aggressive prevention plan and it made me painfully aware that I needed to reach out and talk about how the disease impacted me. My faith was on crutches as I questioned my beliefs. I knew I needed to let others into my world – an ironic idea at first considering half of the city’s doctors had seen my rear-end. But this time it wasn’t about my colon… or any other part of my digestive tract. It was about my emotions and my heart. I needed reminded of the truth. And I needed to finally face my fears.
I slowly began taking small baby steps to work through the lies that haunted me, stories that crippled me and emotions that had driven me to hide my fears (and my bleeding.) I let some trusted people into my world and fought to reconnect with my emotions to the point I became vulnerable again.
It wasn’t a quick process (nor is it over.) I’m six years in and the unraveling continues today. This will be a lifelong journey.
What I’ve learned so far though is that I’m powerless and unhealthy when I’m dishonest with myself and won’t admit that I’m simply afraid. Hiding and suppressing still trick me at times and seem like good solutions when I’m scared. I’m led to believe that being strong means denying fear. But that does nothing for me but isolate me and hinder my ability to heal. I suffer physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually when I cave into their demands.
What happened 15 years ago today indeed changed my life forever. It took me through days I hope never to relive. Yet it’s also taken me through days that have given me a taste of eternity and a sense of what the love of Jesus really means. Despite my suffering, God’s worked for my good in my battle with colon cancer. In Him, I’ve found freedom. Today, I’m thriving and my cancer is in remission. No matter what’s behind, or what is to come, “Jehovah Rapha,” God is my healer.
I have more strength when I admit I’m weak and let light into my life. When I come out of hiding and admit my fear, I’m actually met with love. In fact it’s the perfect love that casts out fear – even the fear of this two-time colon cancer survivor.
Colon and rectal cancers (colorectal cancer) are the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in this country. But, it's a preventable disease. Over 60 percent of deaths could be avoided with screening. Danielle's story shows that anyone can get colorectal cancer, at any age. Guidelines recommend that screening for colorectal cancer begin at age 50. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer and/or polyps, signs or symptoms of the disease, or other risk factors you may need screened sooner. To learn more about colorectal cancer, please visit the advocacy organization Fight Colorectal Cancer at FightCRC.org.
This Seven Billion Ones story is being added to Fight Colorectal Cancer's awareness campaign, the One Million Strong Collection. To view the collection and see other colorectal cancer survivor stories, visit OMScollection.org.