Rachel Durst-Strecker was unaware about colorectal cancer, all she had heard is that it was “an old person’s” disease.
While trying to figure out the source of her digestive issues, Rachel underwent a colonoscopy at 34 years old. She wasn’t worried about it, since colorectal cancer didn’t seem like a possibility to her due to her age. However, the colonoscopy discovered a 12 cm tumor in her rectum, and Rachel was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer.
The news was distressing for the mother of two, who describes her diagnosis as a total
“curveball.” She had no knowledge of any family history at the time, but later found out her grandmother had passed away from colon cancer. Also her uncle and mother had polyps removed in the past.
“It was devastating to hear [the diagnosis],” says Rachel, “It was so shocking at my age, I had just figured out how colonoscopies work! Cancer does not check your birth certificate.”
The biggest concern Rachel had were her children, who were two and five years old at the time. She decided to take time off from her job as a petroleum engineer to focus on her treatment. Rachel started radiation only a week after being diagnosed.
According to Rachel, one of the biggest obstacles she had to face was balancing family life and treatments.
“I missed several of my kids’ events and sometimes daily chores didn’t get done,” says Rachel. “But at the end of the day, I was fighting for my life, so not doing laundry for a day wasn’t a big deal.”
Rachel decided to approach cancer hands-on. She put together a binder with current treatment information and all the cancer-related data she could find. She sought opinions from different specialists from all over the country, wanting to have more options for her treatment.
After learning about her family history, Rachel became interested in the role genetics play in cancer. Thanks to one of her specialists, she learned about tests that can be run on tumors, including biomarker testing.
“Learning about biomarkers made me a stronger patient,” says Rachel, “That knowledge really helped me find a specific and more helpful treatment.”
Rachel knows some patients might be afraid to ask questions, but she encourages them to get informed and talk to their doctors about biomarkers and other kinds of genetic testing.
“Take a deep breath, and ask questions,” says Rachel. “Asking about biomarker testing can help your chemo regimen and the overall outcome of your treatment. Just ask!”
Know your Body. Get Tested.
It’s never too late to ask your doctor about getting your tumor tested for biomarkers. The more your know about your body, the stronger patient you’ll be! To get a conversation starter and mini magazine that explains all you need to know about biomarkers, visit FightCRC.org/Biomarked.