Heather was exhausted. She had spent years trying to find someone who would listen to her
concerns about finding blood in her stool, but doctor after doctor dismissed her symptoms. “It's
just hemorrhoids,” they would say, “Mothers get them after birth all the time. It’s to be expected.”
Heather was tired of bleeding, and she was tired of being dismissed. It had been five years, and
she just wanted to feel like herself, spend time with her three kids, and return to half marathon
training. “I was so frustrated I raised my voice at the doctor and insisted the hemorrhoids be
The doctor agreed to send her to get a series of basic blood tests. Only after the results showed
that Heather had severe anemia, did they refer her to a general surgeon.
The general surgeon recommended Heather move forward with getting a colonoscopy. It was at
that appointment, while coming out of anesthesia, that Heather received the news she had been
dreading – she had cancer. Even though her worst fears were coming true, Heather found a
sense of calm in the moment of diagnosis. The grogginess from the procedure provided a buffer
to process the information without immediate panic. Once home, she embarked on a journey of
research, seeking information, connecting with communities online, and reaching out to a friend
who had colorectal cancer.
While Heather processed her diagnosis, her sample was sent to the laboratory so a pathologist
could look at it under a microscope and make an official diagnosis. They diagnosed her with
stage IIA rectal adenocarcinoma. Based on this information, Heather and her oncologist created
a care plan. Her treatment included chemotherapy and radiation before surgery. During surgery,
her surgeons removed the cancer and created a stoma – an opening in her abdomen to allow
waste to pass directly from her colon into an ostomy bag. After the mass was removed, Heather
received another round of chemotherapy followed by a second surgery to repair her colon and
remove the stoma.
Heather is deeply grateful for laboratory medicine: “The information they provide gave me the best shot at treatment decisions and understanding what I was facing. It provides precision instead of just ‘cancer’”.
Throughout her treatment, Heather grappled with constant fatigue and relied on her support
system, both online and in person. “My parents helped me by keeping the kids or taking me to
radiation or surgeries,” she reflected, “My husband never stopped, when he wasn’t at work, he
was spending time with the kids or keeping the house running.”
Heather finished her treatment over five years ago, but she still struggles with pain and fatigue and thinks about her diagnosis every day. Her experiences have motivated her to become a patient advocate, and she works with organizations across the country to raise awareness of colon cancer and help recently diagnosed patients. Her advice to others facing a similar journey is to read, learn, and absorb as much information as possible.