Joanna’s Story

Colorectal Cancer Patient/Survivor
St. Louis, Missouri

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.

Read more about early-onset colorectal cancer and learn more about the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer.

11 thoughts on “Meet Joanna Haydon from Missouri

  1. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 in December 2018. I was 57 and even though working in the medical profession knew I should have gotten a colonoscopy at age 50. I spent 2019 getting radiation with oral chemo. After that, surgery to remove the rectal tumor and had a temporary ileostomy placed. I took 12 chemo treatments and post scans were clear. I was able to have the ileostomy reversed in December. My 6 month scans in May were also clear. Covid has certainly put restrictions on taking back my life in 2020 but I am 8 months post treatment and still clear.

  2. I was scrolling through and so surprised to see someone who looks like me! I’m so sorry you are going through this! I am six rounds into chemo. I was diagnosed at 32 stage 3b. The tumor also damaged my bladder so it had to be resectioned. The tumor was growing outside my colon so I didn’t have the colon symptoms but was diagnosed after the tumor made a hole in my bladder. It still doesn’t seem real. I thought I was healthy.

  3. Hi Joanna ,

    My name is James Steiner & I was 41 years old when I found out I had Rectal Cancer. I was stage 3 . That was almost 7 years ago. I went thru chemotherapy, Radiation & First Surgery to get the Tumor out. Then did summer chemotherapy then my 2nd Surgery to Rehook me back up. I do Advocate locally in my community at the lake of the Ozark’s & Where I work at & I also is involved in Relay for life at the lake of the Ozark’s. I really want to do more advocate with ACS & ACS CAN Missouri & FCC .

    Jimmy Steiner
    Community Champion of Relay for life of Tri-Counties lake of the Ozark’s

  4. Similar story to yours Joanna – frustrating to be an otherwise healthy woman (although a ‘little’ 🙂 older at 48) advocating for my health through many doctors’ visits and symptoms being missed/ dismissed. Diagnosed a year & a half ago as stage IV. So, as someone who will be undergoing treatment for the rest of her life, please think about us and how the sound of that bell you look forward to ringing makes us feel. And while I will cheer and celebrate that victory with you in December, hearing that bell is also a bitter reminder it will never be me. I don’t say this to sound hateful or dampen your determination, just to raise awareness of those of us on the other side of the coin.
    I leave you with this: stay strong, stay positive, stay focused on living and beating the s#!t out of this cancer!
    With prayers and love for you-

  5. My daughter had the same, she was diagnosed at age 27 of stage 4 colorectal cancer. In the process they removed an ovary thinking that was the problem. All along she never mentiined any other symptoms to me. She is on year 2 of chemo and though its taken its toll she is thriving for a future for her and ger 5 yr old son!

    1. Trisha, I will most definitely be praying for you and your family. Keep your head up. It’s a long road, but you will get through this. 🙂

  6. My story is almost identical. I was diagnosed at 39 and it took my docs about a year to give me the colonoscopy and found it. Stage 3 rectal cancer. That was May of 2018 and as of February of this year I’m clear. Radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, more chemotherapy. Surgery again. It’s now October and I’m still clear. I just has my 1 year colonoscopy and that was clear, I have a CT scan in a few days. Hope that’s clear too!

    1. Bryan, SNAPS for you being cancer free!! Praise the good Lord! Every single survivor I have been in contact with describes the long road to recovery along with the emotional rollercoaster that is cancer. Some days I wake up on chemotherapy and feel like it will never end, but most days I am so encouraged to keep fighting and pushing for a cancer free life, not only myself but my husband and family. Praying for a CT scan!

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