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Katie LaPira

Patient/Survivor Stage III Colon Cancer Virginia
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When I look back on it, I had not been feeling great for the past two years. As a 46-year-old woman, I had chalked it up to the stress of raising teenagers, a demanding job, and perimenopause.

When I noticed blood in my stool, I was embarrassed and nervous. How would I possibly tell someone about this?

Soon after, I could barely carry on my typical lifestyle of walking, eating “relatively” healthy, and going to work. My life was quickly consumed by ensuring I was close to a bathroom. At that point, I knew I needed to seek additional support.

Despite being on the wait list for a colonoscopy starting at the age of 45, and both of my grandmothers having colon cancer, there were no available appointments for a colonoscopy.

I waited to be called by the gastroenterologist to let me know they could get me in. During my pre-screening for the colonoscopy, I was brave and told the doctor everything that was going on.

Due to my health and age, they treated me for hemorrhoids and IBS. Thankfully, the doctor also ran some initial blood tests and stool samples.

After everything came back within normal range, one test indicated high levels of calprotectin, which was a sign of inflammation. I was then put on the emergency cancelation list for a colonoscopy. The only indication that something may be wrong was the suggestion of Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Crohn's.

On the day of my colonoscopy, my husband was traveling, but I had asked my dad to take me as I was assuming it would be pretty routine. When I woke from the procedure, the gastroenterologist had news for me. Coming from the daze of the anesthesia, I only heard, “Would you like someone to come in here for the news?”

I immediately asked for my dad. Once he was in the room with me, holding my hand, we received the news together. At that point, I looked to my dad; in the only way possible, he provided a strength and presence that would be the launching point of my new reality.

The next month was a blur with appointments, CT scans, and finally having a surgery date to remove the golf ball-sized tumor in my rectal sigmoid. With two kids, a dog, a busy husband, and a high-pressure job surrounding me, I took every moment step by step and hour by hour. A community of friends, colleagues, and family supported me.

After the surgery, they discovered that the cancer had spread to a few of my lymph nodes; and therefore, I was diagnosed with stage 3b colon cancer.

I was told I would need to undergo both oral and intravenous chemotherapy over the next six months.

I am fortunate to be close to a research hospital with tremendous private insurance, and I do not take it for granted. I am in the middle of this journey, but I wanted to share my story to give hope and strength to anyone needing it.

My side effects include neuropathy and LARS.

Advice for someone afraid to seek medical advice or colorectal cancer screening is this: If you do have colorectal cancer, as time goes on, it can spread, making it harder to treat. It is a really hard topic to discuss, but remember that these are medical professionals who specialize in this, and they are passionate about helping others. They have literally seen and heard it all, so do not be afraid or embarrassed.

Being diagnosed is very scary, but it is important to take everything one step at a time. If possible, surround yourself with positive friendships and find beauty in the small things. Do not consume yourself with the unknown, and trust that your body is undergoing the hard stuff and you need to treat it well: mentally and physically.

Something all members of Congress should know about colorectal cancer patients' needs is that they need to provide affordable screenings and treatments for all. Lower the recommended age for colonoscopies and do more research about what environmental factors are affecting the increase in colorectal cancer in young people.

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