St. Louis, Mo
My name is Joanna Haydon. A few words to describe me: 31, athletic, writer, attorney, cyclist, positive, proactive.
On May 13, 2019, my life changed forever when three unexpected words were uttered to me:
You have Cancer.
For roughly two years before my diagnosis, I consistently experienced excruciating GI problems—abnormal bloating, gas, stomach pains, food intolerances, difficulty passing bowel movements and constant rectal bleeding. Despite my outward discussions with multiple healthcare professionals, I was told I likely had IBS, Crohn’s disease, internal hemorrhoids, a dairy allergy and/or gluten intolerance. I was instructed to undergo allergy tests and to continue restricting certain foods. I knew something was wrong when I did not experience symptom relief after eliminating meat, dairy, and gluten from my diet.
In September 2018, I called to schedule a consultation with a GI doctor. I was successful in securing an appointment six months out and then I had to wait two more months after the initial visit for the colonoscopy procedure. Eight months later I finally got answers to explain why I felt terrible all the time. Not a single day goes by that I do not think about how much worse my situation could be if I did not advocate for myself and request a colonoscopy.
The past five months have consisted of Invitro fertilization, radiation treatment and the completion of seven of twelve rounds of chemotherapy. Cancer has consumed my schedule, heart, and mind, and my extensive network of family and friends have felt the real impact that a cancer diagnosis delivers. Regardless, I am committed to claiming this experience, even though the next five rounds of chemotherapy and the accompanying CAT scans carry much uncertainty, difficult moments and uncomfortable side effects.
Sadly, my story is not unique. For far too long I walked into medical offices with serious health concerns. For far too long, however, I was advised by multiple doctors that my situation was not serious because I was very young and in too good of shape for any real concerns. What is important to remember, although often forgotten when dealing with young adults, is that cancer does not discriminate. There was no denying that I had presented with almost every symptom for rectal cancer, but I was still seen as too healthy to have cancer.
Although my journey since May 13, 2019, has been riddled with heartache, tears and anxiety-ridden moments, I fully understand the sentiment I hear often that cancer is the worst and best thing that happens to people. I get it.
The lessons on perspective, empathy, and resiliency I have learned in the past five months could fill many pages. I am a far better person because of this experience, and I have finally realized the strength I possess. I am choosing to thrive, despite the inevitable side effects and the uncertainty that fills my mind some days. With this daily choice, I have refused to allow cancer to take away my independence and love for movement. Because of that choice, I have continued working full-time and teaching group cycling classes at CycleBar in St. Louis. My heart is full because I am allowing my diagnosis to shape me, not claim me.
I am determined to thrive during cancer treatment and ring the hell out of Siteman Cancer Center’s bell in December. Do I get a prize if I break it? Cancer-free I will be soon.