Sounding the Alarm on Early-age Onset Colorectal Cancer  


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Jeanice Gantus didn’t know much about colon cancer until her younger sister, Mariana Gantus Wall, was diagnosed with stage IIIc colon cancer in 2022. Mariana was pregnant with her third child — barely in her third trimester — when she learned of the cancer and began treatment immediately. The rapidly growing cancer forced Mariana to have emergency surgery and deliver her baby 10 weeks early. After six months of treatment and a brief period of improvement, Mariana’s cancer aggressively metastasized into
stage IV.   

Less than a year after her diagnosis, Mariana passed away at age 38. Treasured and loved in all her roles – philanthropist, mother of three, wife, sister, daughter, friend – Mariana never said goodbyes because she had such a strong will to live. She refused to put the topic of death into her universe, as she was determined to find a treatment that would cure her.  

Sisters Jeanice Gantus and Mariana Wall

“Mariana made every day she spent on Earth meaningful. She made more of an impact in 38 years than most people make in a lifetime twice as long.”

–Jeanice Gantus, sister/caregiver of Mariana Wall 

Giving Week fundraiser in Mariana’s honor

Jeanice, a longtime Google employee, chose to sponsor Fight CRC during Google’s Giving Week drive in November 2022. Jeanice knew she wanted to select an organization to honor her sister’s battle, so she researched a myriad of different colon cancer organizations before landing on Fight CRC. Jeanice was especially impressed by Fight CRC’s efforts to create awareness, their attention to research, and the vision they shared in Path to a Cure, as well as by their advocacy work in Washington, D.C., affecting changes in policy.   

Sisters Mariana Wall and Jeanice Gantus with Mariana Kissing Jeanice on her cheek

"My sponsorship email included the story of my sister's diagnosis and some of the staggering statistics I’d learned from Fight CRC about the rise in colorectal cancer in younger adults. It was forwarded to thousands of people over a few weeks. I received responses from colleagues all over the world who told me they found it eye-opening and, as a result, were seeking out screening options much earlier than they otherwise would have.” –Jeanice Gantus  

Donations poured in, and Google matched 100% of all funds raised. Jeanice also personally matched the total, ultimately raising more than $60,000 in Mariana’s honor for Fight CRC.  

Since Mariana’s diagnosis and subsequent passing, Jeanice has been devoted to raising awareness, fundraising, and advocating for change with the hope of saving other families from incurring the devastating loss that hers did. Beyond awareness of symptoms and the importance of early screening, Jeanice believes it’s important to support policies and research that specifically focus on mitigating the impending meteoric rise of colorectal cancer in younger adults. She feels it’s critical that people realize the systemic change that needs to take place to increase clinical trials and treatment options.  

Mariana’s story

From the beginning of Mariana’s third pregnancy, she experienced a lot of pain. However, because a colonoscopy might have been harmful to her baby, her OB/GYN advised against it. Doctors performed a series of scans, a sigmoidoscopy, and other tests to try to determine the source of Mariana’s increasing abdominal pain. But all of her scans were clear. Based on those results, Mariana’s doctors believed she was experiencing pregnancy pains, IBD, or ulcerative colitis.  

Mariana’s symptoms rapidly became more severe. In her 29th week of pregnancy, Mariana’s doctors performed a colonoscopy where they discovered she had colon cancer. Despite immediately beginning chemo infusions, her condition deteriorated quickly. Within a few days, Mariana’s excellent team at UCSF Medical Center discovered that the cancer had perforated her colon, so they rushed her into surgery to deliver the baby, treat the resulting sepsis, and remove the portion of her colon that was impacted by cancer. Miraculously, both Mariana and the baby survived the complex series of surgeries. 

After her surgery, Mariana was determined to recover as quickly as possible to return home to her family and be able to attend her younger brother’s wedding. Incredibly, Mariana was discharged from the hospital less than two weeks later, showing the strength and resolve that would come to define her cancer journey.    

Over the course of the next nine months, Mariana and her medical team consistently chose the most aggressive treatment options as her cancer progressed. She endured 12 rounds of chemotherapy, three major surgeries, and countless hospital visits and immunotherapies. Ultimately, Mariana ran out of treatment options, but her fervent will to live to raise her children never faltered.   

Colon cancer used to be a disease that primarily affected people over 60 years old. But when Jeanice walked through the hospital floor Mariana was being treated on, she was surprised to see how young so many of Mariana’s fellow colorectal cancer patients were. Jeanice said it was an eye-opening moment to be standing on a floor dedicated to patients with colon cancer who looked so young. By 2030, colorectal cancer is projected to be the leading cause of cancer deaths for people ages 20-49.

“My sister was vibrant, brilliant, and showed remarkable strength in the face of so many setbacks during her cancer journey. She didn’t want her life to be defined by her illness, so she fought with everything she had. We were devastated as we gradually realized that this underfunded epidemic still has so few treatment options, despite Mariana having the most devoted medical team we could have ever hoped for.” –Jeanice Gantus 

Mariana’s death has been an unimaginable loss to her family and community, and a wake-up call to the surging risks of colorectal cancer in younger adults – many of whom do not meet the traditional risk profile for this disease.  

Jeanice’s mission to create awareness

Jeanice believes that other people could be saved if they are aware of the symptoms Mariana experienced and the growing trend toward early onset colorectal cancer. There is also the critical need to drive research and policy change forward.  

As a testament to her sister’s legacy, Jeanice hopes to increase awareness of colon cancer, changing policies, and raising funds so the research community can keep working to find more treatment options. 

Your Guide in the Fight 

Learn more about Fight CRC programs and resources: 


4 thoughts on “Sounding the Alarm on Early-age Onset Colorectal Cancer  

  1. Mariana was such a wonderful person and so is Jeanice! Still fighting for a cure. I have been inspired by both these brilliant young women to join the fight for a cure!

    1. Thank you, Gabrielle, for joining us in the fight for a cure. I wish we had the opportunity to know Mariana. Jeanice is a powerhouse who will never stop creating awareness in loving memory of her sister.

  2. This is a touching and important article. Jeanice and Mariana are doing so much good by raising this awareness and saving lives!

    1. Thank you so much, Shaina, for your kind comment. We agree that this blog post will create awareness and help save lives, and we are very thankful for Jeanice for sharing her beautiful, deeply personal story.

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