TAMPA, Fla. — After the death of actor Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer, survivors are sharing their stories of an often silent — but many times preventable — disease.
Tampa Bay area native Amber Lace Toye was just a 22-year-old college senior when doctors diagnosed her with an advanced form of colon cancer.
“Now looking back, I can see certain symptoms, like being tired and not really remembering things, but I was super active in college and always in my life,” said Toye. “I just [thought], ‘Oh I have two jobs. I’m in my senior year of college [and] all these events going on, that’s why.’ But I had been bleeding when I go to the bathroom on and off since high school.”
Doctors removed her large intestine, which sent her on a long road to recovery. Toye recognized Boseman’s struggle with the illness, too.
“Whether you are old or young or healthy or not or rich or poor, cancer doesn’t discriminate,” said Toye. “I thought I was super healthy, and it hit me like a ton of bricks, so just with any little thing you think, ‘OK, well maybe this isn’t normal,’ you’ve got to go get checked, at least for your sanity.”
USF Health’s Dr. Jorge Marcet says they’ve been seeing an increase in colon cancer in patients younger than 50. He says one in 20 people in the US will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetime. Dr. Marcet also reminded the importance of getting screened even during the COVID-19 crisis.
“For people who don’t want a colonoscopy or perhaps can’t afford one, another test would be a stool test that detects colon cancer DNA or even a simpler test that detects blood in the stool.”
The American Cancer Society estimates for 2020, about 104,610 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer, while about 53,200 people will die from colorectal cancer this year. It recommends all adults get screened no later than age 45 and even sooner if you have a family history.
Dr. Marcet says colon cancer is preventable in many cases.
“These cancers, the majority of them are found at a stage that’s still curable,” said Dr. Marcet. “There is hope and there’s every reason to believe that this is something that we can within our own community reduce the incidence of this, and it starts with awareness.”
Symptoms include bleeding, cramping, weakness, fatigue and unintended weight loss. Survivors say no change is too small and getting help could ultimately save your life.
“Some things are so preventable if you just act on it,” said Toye. “Just take the time, go get checked, life’s already too short.”