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Ashlie Frank

Patient/Survivor Stage II Rectal Cancer Colorado
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I was living in French Canada with my husband and had always had IBS-type symptoms, but I had started experiencing a small amount of blood my stool.

I went in for appointments on and off for eight months and was diagnosed with food sensitivities, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures before I finally paid to go private for a colonoscopy. They found a large tumor right near my anus, and I was sent in to a specialist the following week and told I had cancer at age 28.

I was so shocked that I don’t even really remember the first few days of my diagnosis, and I remember trying to explain it to my parents over FaceTime. They kept saying, “OK, so precancerous cells. What do we do now?” I had to tell them over and over that I had actual cancer because they were in such disbelief.

When getting all my scans to stage the rectal cancer, doctors also discovered that I had completely unrelated papillary thyroid cancer. So, I had a year of treatment for both separate cancers simultaneously. My treatments included chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, which included removal of my entire rectum and creation of J-pouch, ileostomy, and ileostomy reversal. I also had ovarian suspension surgery and IVF.

Side effects included LARS, neuropathy, and increased anxiety, stress or mental health issues/illness.

I was sent in for genetic testing, and it was discovered that I am positive for CHEK2 gene mutation, which explains the multiple cancers but still not why I got rectal cancer so young with no family history.

I participated in a trial where they injected a stool substitute into my large intestine (that hadn’t been used for six months) for the full week before surgery. This gets your large bowels working again before the ileostomy reversal and is thought to lessen recovery time and length of hospital stay.

Something I wish members of Congress knew is that age and family history should not mean a patient’s concerns and symptoms are not taken seriously.

Getting a colonoscopy may seem like a large inconvenience, but a year full of scary surgeries, treatments, and feeling mentally and physically ill is so much worse. Listen to your body: Your life and well-being could literally depend on it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for second opinions: Doctors are human too and sometimes make mistakes. Find a good mental health support system as the journey is tough and having someone you can talk with is hugely beneficial.

Create a manageable routine to show yourself some extra love: Take short walks; eat your favorite snacks; nap when you need; cry when you need; take time to tell the special people in your life how much they mean to you; make plans and dreams for what you are going to do after you finish treatment; and be kind with yourself.

Also, I was somehow able to naturally conceive my first child only six months in remission. I have been able to move on with my life and start a family and have taken such powerful lessons with me for the experience.

Hang in there: Whether you are expected to be in remission or figuring out how to live well with cancer, there can be so much hope and beauty on the other side.

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