Colorectal cancer no longer discriminates on age. While colorectal cancer incidences and mortality rates in Canadians aged 50+ have been declining in recent years due to increased screening and surveillance programs, the opposite is unfortunately being reported for our younger population.
In the last few years, Canadian doctors have observed a rapid increase in the number of patients under age 50 with colorectal cancer. What makes it even more concerning is that they cannot explain why.
The study also found that younger patients are getting diagnoses at later stages making them harder to treat and leading to increasing fatalities. These shocking statistics reveal that there is more work to be done in terms of prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer in Canada – especially for young adults.
In the last year, the CCAC has partnered with the Never Too Young (“N2Y”) Coalition, an organization united to take action on young onset of colorectal cancer through action, education, and research. The Coalition includes medical professionals, patient advocacy organizations, cancer survivors and caregivers working to educate the public about this growing issue and to reduce the number of late stage young-onset colorectal cancer cases.
Together with the N2Y coalition, the CCAC provides support and information to young patients in Canada who have experienced early onset of the disease.
Young patients may not always understand the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, which may delay their seeking medical attention. Symptoms of CRC can vary from blood in the stool, abdominal discomfort, constipation and much more.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, men are more at risk than women for the disease. Eating processed and red meats, a lack of dietary fiber, a lack of physical exercise, obesity, alcohol, smoking, diabetes and genetics are also identified as risk factors.
Younger patients should consider the following when speaking to their doctors about their inherited risk or symptoms for colorectal cancer:
About 10% of the population has a first degree relative with colon or rectal cancer. If it is evident in your family tree, it is recommended to start screening as early as the age of 25.
Changes in certain genes increase your risk of colon cancer.
Lynch Syndrome is the most common type of inherited colon cancer, accounting for about 2% of all colon cancer cases. Lynch syndrome is a mutation of a gene that is responsible for fixing errors in your DNA. Lynch Syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), is an hereditary disorder caused by a genetic mutation in which affected individuals have a higher than normal chance of developing colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and various other types of aggressive cancers, often at a young age. To prevent colorectal cancer, people with Lynch Syndrome should undergo a colonoscopy every 1-2 years, starting in their twenties. Doing this will reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 77%.
While it’s true that people with firsthand colorectal cancer experience are more inclined to join the fight against the disease, anyone can play a role in and impact the battle that the CCAC continues to fight daily.
Whether you are a cancer survivor or care about someone living with cancer, you have valuable knowledge and experience that can help shape the experience of others with compassion and understanding. By becoming a CCAC volunteer, you can use your cancer experience in a positive way. Not only will it impact someone else’s life, it will positively affect your own.
• Build relationships – Your experience can help others deal with their journey
• To create hope and inspire patients and caregivers in their fight against cancer
• Widen your support network – It’s a great way to deal with your own cancer through shared experiences
• Your involvement can help save lives
Ways to volunteer
We offer a flexible range of ways to become involved, no matter how much time or the skills you have to share. Our volunteer opportunities include assisting with fundraising activities, healthy living education/promotion, creating awareness about prevention, patient or family support or office work assistance if you are in the Montreal area.
Cancer support groups
Trained volunteer facilitators lead support groups for people with colorectal cancer and their families. Our programs offer critical information on the disease and its management, as well as emotional and practical support to patients and their families to help them find ways to cope while undergoing the journey.
Awareness and education.
Spreading the word about symptoms and prevention is key to early detection and survival, particularly with the growing rates of those under 50 being diagnosed. We constantly need people to help raise awareness about colorectal cancer and to provide education about prevention and screening. Whether it be at CCAC organized events (table tops or at a Giant Colon Tour stop), hosting your own event or via social media, it’s easy and all are welcome.
Like most non-profit organizations, we rely on donations and money collected from fundraising events to maintain the services and programs we offer for patients and their families. There are organized CCAC events scheduled throughout the year that you can participate in or like many of our supporters have done in the past you can create your own within your own community. The CCAC will support you with any promotional or educational materials that you require. Previous volunteer hosted events include; golf/baseball tournaments, luncheons, dinners, concerts, fashion shows, movie nights, art exhibitions and auctions.
“Having colorectal cancer running in my family, I wished to help raise awareness of this life taking disease, and did so by being a volunteer for the CCAC for quite a few years now. With the equal participation and support of my boyfriend, we have taken part of many events hosted by the association to bring awareness to one of the most preventable diseases, if caught early. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of our lives and we can only hope that we have brought and will continue bringing awareness to people. Early screening can save your life, so literally, go get your butt checked.” Tam & Max
For more volunteer information please contact Frank Pitman at email@example.com.
“Colon cancer is often silent and insidious – I can attest to that. At only 30 years of age and with virtually no symptoms or family history I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I owe a debt of gratitude to my family doctor who by accident (or perhaps divine intervention) ticked a box for a lab test on some routine bloodwork that came back suspicious for colon cancer. She, as well as several specialists, tried to reassure me that it was very unlikely that at my age I could have such a disease. But my insistence on having further testing was justified when a tumour was detected in my colon during a colonoscopy.
A whirlwind of more tests and doctor appointments followed. Despite metastases (tumours which spread outside the colon) being detected in my liver and lymph nodes, my doctors were confident that with surgery and chemotherapy I would have a good chance of overcoming this disease. And so it began. In February 2010 I had surgery to remove half my colon and two-thirds of my liver. After six weeks of recovery I started on a six-month course of chemotherapy. This proved hard on my body and very challenging on my mind and spirit. On the bright side of things, the time off of work afforded me more time to spend with my young son (who was not even two when I was diagnosed) and when I felt well we enjoyed lots of quality time at our family cottage.
Now, two years later I am doing well and despite a setback last year when another tumour was found in my liver, the outlook remains good. It will be years before I know whether I am cancer free and so I continue to live on a roller-coaster of blood tests and scans searching for any signs of return of cancer in my body. I credit the support of dear friends, family and colleagues with helping me through the tough times. I am committed to fundraising and raising awareness of colon cancer screening. I have benefitted from the support and education programs offered by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada since becoming a member shortly after my diagnosis. I am proud to be involved for a second year with the Get Up There ski challenge which provides generous funds to cancer organizations to help continue public awareness campaigns.
I have been cancer free for over five years. I had my second baby in 2013, three years after my diagnosis, so I have two boys now. And I am completing my masters in nursing this year.
Life is full of challenges, but no challenge is insurmountable. I am looking forward once again to reaching the top of Wentworth Mountain with family and friends by my side.”
My husband and I returned from a trip to Mexico in December of 2013 and I found myself violently ill with a stomach bug shortly after. I never fully bounced back from that and was generally unwell for the balance of 2014. I felt so ‘off’ that I stopped going for walks, playing baseball, riding my bike, swimming, etc. and was finally diagnosed with Celiac Disease in November 2014. I hoped within a few weeks of starting a strict gluten-free diet that I would feel like a million bucks, but the opposite happened and my symptoms seemed to get worse.
I read somewhere to see a doctor if you notice changes with your stool lasting more than a week or two, so I made an appointment to get in asap. A colonoscopy quickly followed and I was diagnosed March 12th, 2015 with Colorectal Cancer (ironically during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month). After a CT-Scan and an MRI, it was determined to be Stage 3. This meant; 5 weeks of a daily radiation/chemo pill treatment combo, bowel surgery including the addition of an ileostomy bag, followed by 3 months of chemotherapy and hopefully (under a best case scenario) a second surgery to remove the bag.
The surgery that removed a portion of my rectum determined that 1) my radiation treatment was very successful so I didn’t need the planned chemo treatment after all and 2) the ileostomy was in fact temporary. I am happy to sum up that everything turned out extremely well in my case.
How did I get through all that? While it’s hard to say because last year was a blur, but a few things are clear;
• Taking one day at a time was instrumental because the big picture was extremely overwhelming
• My Husband and Son were consistent with their love and support and helped with all the day to day things as needed
• The Doctors and Nurses that made up my ‘Health Care Team’ were phenomenal day in and day out
• My friends, family and co-workers were my never ending cheerleaders especially since I continued to work full-time during treatment, albeit from home
• I was even lucky enough to get welcomed into a support group made up of other young local Colorectal Cancer survivors that dropped everything to help me understand what to expect through every single step of my journey (and still do)
• My faith helped me to stay calm, positive and grounded
While this is very out of character for me to step out into the public eye, I am participating in Push for Your Tush locally to raise funds and awareness since I now feel compelled to share my story. Knowing that early detection is key, I ask everyone that reads this to look before you flush to understand what is normal for you and to not ignore or dismiss any noticeable changes. I looked, acted and am extremely blessed that my story/journey continues…
It was a day I will never forget. Two weeks shy of my 28th birthday I was awoken after my colonoscopy and told I have stage four colon cancer. My heart sunk. How is this possible? Just two months ago I was at the walk-in clinic complaining of acid reflex and now I have cancer?
I was quickly introduced to a surgeon who informed me that my liver was riddled with tumours and unfortunately I was inoperable. I quickly kicked everyone out of the room as I felt myself running out of air. Five minutes later he came back in and I sat up from the fetal position and said, “No. I believe you will operate. I challenge that you will see the inside of my body within 1 or 2 years.” After four rounds of chemotherapy, to my surprise, I was right. I underwent two operations that year and since then I have had five, with my sixth coming this June. I have been told not once, but twice that I am inoperable. I have had my surgeon admit that he never thought he would see me again after our first meeting. But with determination, a positive attitude and the will to keep on living – I have proved everyone wrong. I know this is not the end of my battle against colon cancer. I will be fighting this for the rest of my life, but that is ok. I am not thankful for cancer – that would be crazy – I am thankful for other things it has given me. I have a greater appreciation for all those who surround my life. It has made me into a person I didn’t know existed.
For my own therapeutic reasons I started a blog to help drain the chaos that exists in my brain. It is found at www.youngfemalecancer.com. I openly share my experiences and thoughts – and welcome anyone to interact with me through there.
Keep on fighting!
On December 2, 2014, I went for my annual physical. I was feeling to be in perfect health, no issues whatsoever. During the exam my doctor found microscopic traces of blood after doing a rectal exam to check my prostate, which all men over 40 dread. The doctor said the finding was probably nothing but referred me to a GI doctor for further investigation.
I blew off making the follow up appointment for a few weeks until I just happened to stumble across the paper with the GI doc’s info on my generally messy office desk where it could have easily gotten lost and the referral forgotten. I went to see the GI doc in early January, he concurred with my primary care doctor’s opinion that it was probably nothing based on my young age but recommended we schedule a colonoscopy just in case.
A few weeks later (5 days after my 42nd birthday), I got scoped… when I awoke from anesthesia the doctor informed me that he found a 2.5cm tumor in my rectum. Obviously, this news hit me and my wife like a ton of bricks. The day of the diagnosis still seems likes a dream in my memory. I remember feeling like it can’t be real. Although a CT scan I had later that day revealed an enlarged lymph node, it showed no spread to my vital organs. My diagnosis was classified as Stage IIIB rectal cancer.
The anticipation of treatment came with a lot of fear and uncertainty. I worried not only about how it would affect me, but I had concerns for how my family would handle it. My kids were 4 and 7 at the time, and while we felt it was important for them to know the truth, their daddy had cancer; we wanted to be careful not to scare them. I worried about how my business would function without me, as I run a small software company and play a large role in the day-to-day management responsibilities.
Treatment itself was challenging, but I suffered no complications and managed to deal with the side effects of chemotherapy relatively well. I was lucky that I had a great response to chemotherapy and was therefore able to avoid radiation. I never really felt like a cancer patient except for maybe on a handful of days.
Surgery brought some adjustments to the new anatomical structure of my GI tract, but again I was lucky to avoid needing “a bag” and for the most part function returned to normal.
Looking back on my cancer journey I don’t consider myself to have been unlucky for having developed this disease, but rather I consider myself very fortunate for having found it relatively early, for having responded well to treatment and for being on the road to full recovery.
I was lucky to have such supportive and loving family and wife who took amazing care of me through all stages of my treatment. I also feel lucky to have made some amazing friends who are my peers in this journey and have greatly enriched my life. I think everyone who goes through the journey comes out stronger and with a better perspective on life than when they went into it.