Carroll County Times

Littlestown woman rebounds after rare colon cancer diagnosis

LITTLESTOWN, Pa. -- Ann Young's diagnosis with colon cancer started out with something that she dismissed as a little fluky.
The 41-year-old Littlestown, Pa., mother of two said she experienced bleeding on and off for about six months but avoided telling both her doctor and her husband, Joseph.
"I ignored it because I didn't want to have a colonoscopy," Ann Young said.
When she finally did tell her husband, she said he immediately told her, "You could have colon cancer."
"When she told me it was for six months, I near about flipped," Joseph said.
When Ann, a stay-at-home mom, had her first initial blood test, her results had no cancer indicators, leading her doctors to believe she possibly had colitis or diverticulitis. She said her doctor ordered a colonoscopy just as an extra precaution.
"She just looked at me and said, 'See, it's not cancer,'" Joseph said of his wife.
Ann's colonoscopy was never even fully completed -- the tumor was spotted right away. While Ann said her doctor wouldn't immediately use the word "cancer," she said he told her it didn't look good.
When she had a definitive cancer diagnosis about five days later in July 2012, Ann was told it was stage 2A. This would mean having the tumor and a portion of her colon removed, but no additional treatment after that. Ann and her husband said this was the best news for which they could have hoped.
"You find out you have cancer and you think, 'What's the next best thing that could happen?'" Joseph said.
However, after Ann's surgery, cancer cells were found in five of the 21 lymph nodes doctors removed, making her a higher stage 3 and needing almost six months of chemotherapy.
She said her doctor explained to her children that he probably had removed all of her cancer through surgery but chemotherapy would be done as an "insurance policy" just in case something was missed.
While there had been cancer deaths in Ann Young's family, she had no family history of colon cancer. Also, Ann's age made her a rare case for the disease, since nine out of 10 people diagnosed with the disease are older than 50, according to the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society's website said a person's lifetime risk of getting the disease is about 1 in 20, with the risk being slightly lower in women than men.
Throughout her treatment, Ann and her husband made sure their kids -- Michael, 11, and Elizabeth, 8 -- knew what was going on. Ann said this was particularly necessary, considering some of her chemotherapy was done at home through a pump.
"I think it was all of our fight," she said.
She said her kids seemed to feel the same way, and Michael even went as far as to have a wrestling uniform custom-made bearing the words "My mom's battle is my battle."
Throughout her chemotherapy, Ann said she experienced tingling in her hands and feet, along with other expected side effects, though she never lost her hair. She said she had purchased a wig shortly after her diagnosis just as a precaution.
"I never had to open up that wig box," Ann said. "I didn't mind [the public] knowing, I just didn't want them knowing that way."
Despite the fact that his wife kept her hair, Joseph said the other physical side effects of the chemotherapy were painful to watch, especially right when Ann was receiving the treatment.
"It was like watching a flower die. The color goes, the eyes drop ... I'd go to the car and cry," he said.
Ann finished up her chemotherapy in March, and said she had a cancer-free CT scan in April. She did not, however, breathe a true sigh of relief until she had a normal colonoscopy in August.
She said she will need to receive colonoscopies annually for the next four years, after which their frequency may be reduced to one every three years.
Ann said the experience taught her not only that cancer was not a death sentence, but also how many people were dealing with it.
"There were days you couldn't find a parking spot," Young said of the Carroll Regional Cancer Center, where she received all of her treatments. "When you go about your daily life, you don't think about it."
She said the experience also taught her not to ignore symptoms, and said she has since met people who were putting off getting a colonoscopy for similar reasons as herself.
"I said, 'It's not that big of a deal; you need to get it done,'" Ann Young said. "... I don't look at what I should have done -- it's what came out of it that's more important."