Jen's Story: My mom was diagnosed at age 49


"This is a picture of my amazing little family, Mom (Mary Ann), Melissa, Aaron, and I (Jen). 

We have endured a lifetime of many great and wonderful things we have been blessed with, but also some things that we never expected to come our way.  My mother became a single mother at the age of 31 with three young children, ages, 9, 7, and 3.  My father unexpectedly passed away in a car accident coming home from a business trip.  My mother dedicated her life to make sure that we were given everything we possibly needed (plus anything we wanted) and that we grew up to be happy responsible adults.  Each one of us graduated college by 2005 and are now working professionals, and she finally was able to live the life that focused on her happiness.         

Also in 2005, my mother started getting some painful symptoms after she would eat.  Being the most selfless person that I have ever known, she would just go lie in bed and not say a word to anyone, just so people wouldn’t worry about her. I started to notice that the pain was getting worse and affecting her more frequently.  She still did not want to go to the doctor, but I made and appointment and forced her to go.

We got to the doctor, and they immediately called for a CT scan and a colonoscopy.  We got the worst news we could possibly get.  She was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at the age of 49. 

No one in my family has ever been diagnosed with any type of cancer. This was a complete shock to all of us.  Treatments started immediately, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.  After about 6 months of treatment, she had a month to rest and went under the knife. Her colon was removed along with some of the lymph nodes.  During the first days of my mom’s recovery, my sister was two floors up in the same hospital, delivering her first child, my mom’s first grandchild.  It was a roller coater of emotions for all of us. 

The doctors said there would be a 1 in 3 chance that it would come back and after 5 years, the risk gets lower and lower the longer time passes.  We monitored through CT scans, things started looking great, until about 4 ½ years passed.  A mass was identified, and it was getting bigger.  It started to grow quickly, and she started chemotherapy again.  The chemotherapy did not work to shrink the tumor, so the only other option was another surgery. 

The only hospital in the United States that would tackle her situation was the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.  We traveled up to Cleveland to go through another surgery.  We had high hopes.  The doctors expressed confidence that they would be able to surgically remove it.  Once she went into surgery, the doctor came out about 2 hours later.  He told us that there were no boundaries to the tumor and it could not be removed.  This was the most heartbreaking new in our lives.

            That day was about 11 months ago.  Mom is still here with us and fights for her life on a daily basis.  It is the most amazing thing to see someone’s will to live and be there for the family who loves her dearly.  The most inspiring thing I have ever witnessed.  She is in hospice right now and has amazed the nurses who visit her everyday.  We live in the present, appreciating the people we have here and make the most of the time that we do have.

            My mother is the reason that I put so much time and effort into the Colon Cancer Prevention Project.  I joined the group in 2011 after I moved to Louisville, KY.  I have been on the Annual Gala planning committee, co-chair the Young Professionals group and also am involved in volunteering for the 5K race in August.  I feel so passionately about the message of the Project, I put all of my spare time into supporting the cause and trying to educate everyone that I come in contact with the risks of colon cancer.  If my family and I had known what we know now, my mother may have been able to catch the killer a lot sooner and possibly be living a normal life.  So if I can prevent just one person and their family from going through the things that my family has, then it is worth all the hard work that I put into the Project.

I am also trying to bring awareness of the group up to my hometown in Northern Kentucky.  On July 28, we will be throwing a benefit called The Blue Mooners Bash.  There will be some food, a raffle, entertainment by local musicians, art vendors, and deals on drinks (Blue Moon).  If you are in the Northern Kentucky area, stop in and say hello.

Some information on the event:

July 28, 2012


The Avenue Lounge an Patio

411 Madison Avenue, Covington, Kentucky 41011

---Jen Breetz

Shannon's story: I was diagnosed at 29

"I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in October 2011. I was just 29. I am now 30. Facing and fighting mortality at such a young age is frightening. I had just graduated college. My life hadn't even started yet.

"Like so many others, at first, I had no symptoms, not until it was almost too late. In January 2011, I had severe stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. I was told by several doctors that it was ovarian cysts. After undergoing several ultrasounds over the next six months, I was finally given a diagnosis: Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome and Endometriosis. My menstrual cycle was stopped chemically, but the pain got more severe, and more persistent.

"I then decided something was being overlooked. I went to get a second opinion, but before I could find another doctor, I ended up in the Emergency Room. Another ultrasound was performed, but no cysts were seen. It was then that a CT scan was ordered. I had a huge abscess in my abdomen. It was decided that my intestine was perforated.

"Because of my age, the doctors believed it to be due to Diverticulitis, Crohn's Disease, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I had a 5% chance of having cancer. To avoid surgery, the doctors wanted to do a colonoscopy, but I had too much inflammation, it was too risky.

"I was treated by having the abscess drained, and several antibiotics. I even had to get a blood transfusion and spend a few days in ICU, because I was anemic and almost septic. I was admitted twice more with the same infection. It was when I was admitted a third time, that a exploratory surgery was performed. That is when they discovered the tumor. I also ended up with a colostomy.

"I have since undergone 12 rounds of chemo over a six month period. Each treatment lasted 3 days. It was grueling. I find out next week if I am in remission, but so far things look good.

"I am heartbroken that screening for people my age is not routine, and often, isn't covered. Cancer is a silent killer, and it does not discriminate based on age. Routine screening could have saved me and so many others, from undergoing such trauma."

-- Shannon Lee-Sin, Miami, Florida

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