THE WOODLANDS, Texas - This past week marked one year since actor Chadwick Boseman died. The Black Panther protagonist was just 43-years-old when he died of stage 4 colon cancer.
Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce joined the American Cancer Society in recommending the screening age for colorectal cancer be lowered to 45 as more adults under 50 are being diagnosed with the disease.
Rosa Eberle of The Woodlands is one of them. She was 39 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in October 2020.
"It was totally unexpected. I was in the best shape of my life. And getting the news was like having someone you punch you right in the gut," she told FOX 26.
A colonoscopy revealed a mass was obstructing 80 percent of her colon. She was immediately admitted to the hospital and had surgery to remove part of her colon.
She chronicled her entire journey on YouTube from dealing with the difficult diagnosis to months of chemo to pushing herself to stay healthy.
"Gosh, this is going to sound so cheesy but I really view this as my purpose now is to share this testimony," Rosa said.
Under the supervision of her oncologist, Dr. Pierre N. Khoury, she participated in a CrossFit competition and ran a half marathon in the middle of chemotherapy.
"I did not want it to change her lifestyle," Dr. Khoury said. Despite Rosa having type 1 diabetes, Dr. Khoury described her as perfectly healthy.
"1 out of 7 patients who will be diagnosed with colon cancer is younger than 50," he added.
He says about 18,000 people under 50 are expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer in the US in 2021. That's about 12 to 15 percent of all cases.
"Unfortunately, we don't know what is causing and what is the epidemiology for patients younger than 50 who develop colon cancer," Dr. Khoury stated. He adds there is speculation people who are obese, do not engage in regular exercise, and eat processed meat have an increased risk for colon cancer.
He says cases among those younger than 50 are increasing while cases in 50 and older have been decreasing in the 1990s because of screening recommendations. He is pleased to know the age is now being pushed to 45.
"Colon cancer starts from a polyp and the polyp develops over years and then transforms into cancer," Dr. Khoury explained.
Dr. Khoury says there are two types of screenings: a Cologuard and a colonoscopy.
"The only thing about Cologuard is it will detect colon cancer. It does not prevent colon cancer. So, having a colonoscopy you can find a polyp and clip the polyp and prevent it from progressing into colon cancer," he said.
As for symptoms, the American Cancer Society says they include:
- Changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, and narrowing of the stool
- Not feeling relieved after just having a bowel movement
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in stool
- Abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
Rosa says her symptoms began in 2017 after her daughter was born.
"I had changes in bowel movements. I was seeing blood in my stool, but I thought, oh, I just had a natural birth, maybe it's internal hemorrhoids or something," she recalled.
She put off the colonoscopy for several years. Her message now is to listen to your body and do what you need to do even if it scares you.
"Because, in all honesty, having to go through the colonoscopy and preparing my body for that was nothing compared to having to deal with surgery and chemotherapy and everything else that I had to deal with afterward," Rosa emphasized. "So, if fear is what's keeping you from going to the doctor, if fear is what's keeping you from getting that colonoscopy or getting that blood test done, you gotta talk down to that and say my health is more important than being fearful of something."
After about 6 months of treatment, Rosa rang the bell. She still has to go to the doctor for routine check-ins to make sure she's still in the clear.