This article appears in the June 2021 issue of the
PE GI Journal
After her colorectal cancer diagnosis, Marlene Patterson urges others to go for a colon cancer screening.
Marlene Patterson was just 49 years old when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. As a person under the age of 50 with a colorectal cancer diagnosis, she is unfortunately part of a larger trend. What was once widely considered an innocuous threat to young people has become much more prevalent and concerning. According to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of colorectal cancer has more than doubled among adults younger than 50 since the 1990s. This year alone, roughly 18,000 people under the age of 50 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In this interview with PE GI Journal, Marlene shares her journey and the advice she has for others on colon cancer screening.
Kelly McCormick (KM): When and how did you discover you had colon cancer?
Marlene Patterson (MP): I learned I had colon cancer after attending my colon cancer screening in May of 2019. I had been experiencing pain from, what I thought, were hemorrhoids and this feeling that I didn’t quite empty when I had a bowel movement. When I thought I saw blood in my stool, I contacted my PCP, who gave me a home test to take. It was positive for blood, so I booked a colon cancer screening.
KM: Could you walk us through where you are now in your treatment journey?
MP: My initial treatment was chemo-radiation. So, I received chemotherapy on days 1–5 and 31–35 while receiving 35 days of external beam radiation to the tumor in my rectum/anus. (There is a very slim margin). I was then scanned in January 2020. The initial area of my treatment looked successful—rectum clear, lymph nodes clear—but the physicians were suspicious of metastasis to my liver. A February 2020 liver biopsy confirmed that the cancer had metastasized to my liver. There were tumors in both lobes.
From March to August 2020, I received carboplatin and taxol every three weeks, which resulted in a slight positive response. In August 2020, I had colostomy surgery. From October to December 2020, I received Keytruda immunotherapy every three weeks with no success, and my tumor continued to grow.
Currently, I receive FOLFOX chemo every other week. I also just had y90 spheres directly planted into the tumors in my liver, and after recovery, I will need to have the same thing done in my other lobe. It’s a two-part procedure. First, they map out where to plant, then two days later, they deploy the radioactive isotopes. It’s been quite a ride!
KM: How has receiving care during the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?
MP: It has been very hard to have no one with me as a second set of ears and as a support through all the visits, hospitalizations, and treatments. Even at my home I couldn’t have visitors. It was isolating and depressing when I was trying hard to stay positive.
KM: Who or what have you leaned on for support throughout your journey?
MP: Always faith first. My faith has led me to the kindest, most caring, compassionate, and thoughtful people. I have been very blessed with the support I have.
KM: What would you want patients skeptical of colon cancer screening to know?
MP: In most of the stories I’ve heard firsthand, including my own, there were either no symptoms, or by the time there were symptoms, the cancer was already very advanced. It is so important that even very mild symptoms should never be ignored. I urge people to please get screened because it could save your life.
KM: Are there any words of advice you would have for a patient just receiving their diagnosis?
MP: Breathe. You’ve got this. I would seek several opinions before choosing where to go for treatment. I would read as much as I could about my diagnosis, so I’m informed. Take someone with you to every appointment if you can. If there are still COVID restrictions, FaceTime or conference call someone in on the appointment.
Marlene’s story is a reminder that this cancer can no longer be considered an “old person’s” disease. With the rising statistics and patients like Marlene sharing her story, hopefully more people will take heed and begin earlier screenings. It is imperative now, more than ever, that young adults start screenings at 45 years old, unless there is a family history. In this case earlier screenings may be advised.