A B.C. woman who survived stage-three colon cancer is sharing her story in the hopes of raising awareness about a disease that will affect one in six British Columbians.
Jaylee Thomas was diagnosed almost 10 years ago, just before her 33rd birthday and while pregnant with her first child.
Thomas told Global News she didn’t notice any symptoms except some abdominal discomfort that sent her to the doctor.
The terrifying diagnosis was just the start of a painful journey, with her doctor delivering more devastating news as she prepared to start months of chemotherapy.
“He sat me down and told me I should probably terminate the pregnancy, and I did after consulting with my husband,” she told Global News.
A decade later, Thomas still has a photo of the tumour that had likely been growing inside her for years before it was detected.
“Even looking back now with this pulled-out perspective, nothing stands out. I had gas, but how was I supposed to know? I didn’t see any blood in my stool,” she said.
March is colorectal cancer awareness month, and doctors say the importance of screening for the disease cannot be understated.
“It’s unfortunately one of the leading causes of cancer death in B.C. as well, second only to lung cancer,” said Dr. Jennifer Telford with the BC Cancer Colon Screening Program.
“When it’s caught early, actually colon cancer is quite curable. If it’s caught in its earliest stages, over 90 per cent of people will be cured of the cancer, which is why screening is so important.”
Telford said doctors typically recommend screening starting when people turn 50, with the goal of detecting cancer at an early state or even in its pre-cancerous form when it can be easily removed.
Those guidelines change for people with a family history, especially if it involves close family members and family members who developed the disease at an early age.
Thomas, who had no family history of colorectal cancer or any obvious symptoms, believes the screening guidelines need to evolve to include younger adults.
“Every person I’ve met with colon cancer is under 40,” she said. “You can’t tell me it’s an older person’s disease or issue.”
Research appears to be bearing that feeling out.
Statistics released earlier this month by the American Cancer Society showed that one in five U.S. cases, or 20 per cent, were among people under the age of 55 in 2019 — almost double the rate of 11 per cent in 1995.
A decade on from her own diagnosis Thomas is now teaching others the importance of whole-body health, through pilates and a form of light therapy she says helped her through the side effects of chemotherapy.
She’s also sharing a message with others who may face the disease.
“Fight for yourself,” she said.
“If your doctor says, ‘You don’t need that,’ fight for it. Because they don’t know what you need.”