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Lisa Johnson

Patients & Survivors Stage III Rectal Cancer West Virginia

Story: "I had been experiencing bloating, constipation, and occasional blood in my stool for a few months when it came time for my annual pap test, so I decided to mention it to the doctor during my exam. She said, 'Oh, you're 25! Try some Miralax in your morning coffee, and you'll be good to go. Worst case scenario is that you have some hemorrhoids you will need nipped.'

"Four months later, I developed my final symptoma sharp, stabbing pain in my left buttock. I immediately made an appointment with a local GI surgeon for what I assumed was internal hemorrhoids.

"Immediately upon meeting Dr. Burns I could tell he was different: He actually believed me. Seconds into a digital exam he stopped talking mid-sentence. I knew it was not good. I looked up at my mom who was holding my hand and her eyes were closed. She also knew.

"After finishing the exam, he was completely honest with me. He said he wanted a colonoscopy ASAP, and that he was able to feel a large mass on the right side of my rectum: Yes, right where that butt cheek pain had been. He brought my husband, Chad, into the room with my mother and I and continued to explain that this was much more than internal hemorrhoids, and he wanted to prepare us for a potential cancer diagnosis.

"'I know you're 26; you're way too young, but I really think this is where we are going to find ourselves. We are in this together.' He was right, on all accounts. Three days later, I had my colonoscopy. Three days after that I had my diagnosis, and Dr. Burns was by my side the entire time."

Advice: "A doctor's visit, a colonoscopy, and anything in between is so much more appealing and easier to live with than having to fight like hell for your life after an early onset colorectal cancer diagnosis. Even after 'surviving' this beast, I fight what I call 'remissues (remission + issues) every day of my life, whether it be chronic pain, chemo brain, anxiety, depression, survivor's guilt. My diagnosis and my battle will affect me every day for the rest of my life."

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