Meet the One Million Strong – Stephanie B. from Tennessee

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MEET STEPHANIEStephanie Bertels

Stephanie Bertels, Advocate/Family

Johnson City, Tennessee


On November 7, 2006, my mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.  On June 19, 2010, my daughter’s second birthday, we were told that there was nothing more that could be done to save my mom.  After she began experiencing serious delusions and hallucinations, my dad, my older sister, and I were forced to place my then-48-year-old mother in a nursing home, where she died three weeks later on September 15, 2010.

This was a time in our lives when my mom and I should have been spending time together sharing stories, laughing, and playing with my daughter; when she should have been able to appreciate the woman I was becoming while I appreciated the wonderful mentor I had always had, but had never taken the time to appreciate; when I should have been able to learn important life lessons from her that I could then in turn pass onto my daughter.

Instead, my mom suffered, lost her mind, and died, and all my family could do was watch.

Today is Wednesday, May 28, 2014.  I am currently 24 years old – half the age my mom was when she died – and my first colonoscopy is scheduled for Friday.  It is a bit inconvenient to take time off of work, and the prep will undoubtedly be unpleasant, though the procedure itself will take place with me under sedation.  I’m so young, and it probably seems silly to many people for me to be worrying about getting screened at this age.  But a bit of discomfort and inconvenience is well worth the avoidance of a slow and miserable death.

My daughter will not lose her mother the way I lost mine.  My husband will not be a widower like my dad.  I won’t let colon cancer take me like it took my mom.


“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  My grandmother and mother used to say this to me, and now it makes sense.  No one thought my mom would have colon cancer; we had no family history of it and didn’t know what the symptoms were.  For years, Mom had been experiencing painful and disruptive bowel symptoms, but she had dismissed it as just a side effect of her medications.  If she had known to get screened when she started having problems, she might have lived to see me get married, to see my daughter start school, to see my sister get engaged, to travel with my dad when he retires in a few years.  She might still be alive today, if only we had caught the cancer sooner.


The existence of the One Million Strong campaign is a huge comfort to me.  It means that more people are recognizing risk factors and symptoms, in turn,  getting screened.  It means more people are getting treatment early and living longer, and it means that fewer people are losing their loved ones to one of the most preventable and treatable cancers.

One Million Strong gives me hope that the story of my family’s suffering might save someone else.


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