Patient Story: Pierre
Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Pierre, who was diagnosed with early-age onset colorectal cancer (EAO CRC) during the pandemic. He shared a little bit about himself and his diagnosis and treatment experiences. We hope that sharing Pierre’s story can continue to raise awareness about EAO CRC and the importance of taking your symptoms seriously, even if you are under age 50!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Pierre, and I live in Toronto, ON. At the age of 36, I decided to go back to school to obtain my accounting degree and eventually obtain my CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) certification. I was working in public relations for about 15 years and it’s been really good to me, but I decided it was time for a career change, so I decided to go into accounting. I’m passionate about rowing–I’m a member of the Argonaut Rowing Club and I teach indoor rowing (just like a spin class but on a rower!) at Scullhouse. So that is who I am! I am a rower, in public relations for 15 years, a student, living in Toronto, managing everything during COVID and doing the best that I can.
Were you aware of the possibility of EAO CRC prior to your diagnosis?
I had really no awareness about cancer. To me, and I don’t like saying it, it was really an older person’s disease. My mom had lung cancer, my aunt was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in her late 70’s/early 80’s. I also found out that my grandmother, although never diagnosed, most likely passed from colorectal cancer. So there was a history, but I didn’t really find out or look into it until I started having symptoms.
What symptoms did you experience? How long from symptoms appearing to diagnosis?
I just turned 40 in early March, right before COVID-19 hit. About a month later, I felt like I needed to use the restroom and noticed quite a bit of blood in my stool, and that the stool felt different (almost sand-ish diarrhea).
Shortly after that, I started experiencing very dull cramping when eating high-fibre foods, but nothing that stopped me from my daily activities. I then noticed that my bowel movements had changed drastically. I was a very “regular” person, two to three times per day, but that changed to once every two or three days. That was a sign that something was wrong. What made me call my doctor was the urgency to defecate and once I went to the washroom, nothing happened–as if I imagined the whole thing. It would even wake me up in the middle of the night.
In May, during the height of COVID’s first wave, I filled out an online questionnaire from my hospital detailing my symptoms, waiting for a call back to book an appointment with my doctor. Within two minutes, I received a response and the next day I had a phone consultation with my doctor. They ordered stool and blood tests for the next morning, and they set aside time for a physical, CT scan or ultrasound the following day. So, Wednesday was the phone consultation, Thursday was stool and blood tests, and Friday I met with my doctor. I had my CT scan right after my appointment. The next day, my doctor called me saying that they saw some inflammation and that they would be calling the gastroenterologist’s office and that I would need a colonoscopy. I got a call the following Monday to prepare for a colonoscopy first thing Wednesday morning. Before my colonoscopy, the doctor walked in and said I was way too young and healthy, and it’s probably just going to be an infection. While performing the colonoscopy, he was examining the end of my cecum and put his hand on my stomach to show where it was. I said “that’s odd, because that is where the cramping starts”. He began to take tissue samples, so my thoughts began racing at that point. I received a call from my doctor the following day, and he explained that I would normally go to the hospital but due to COVID, it was done over the phone. They told me that they sent the tissue for biopsy and it came back as colon cancer. So, it took eight days from initial consultation to getting a diagnosis.
Your treatment experiences?
A few days after receiving the diagnosis, I met with a surgical oncologist because I required a right-side hemicolectomy. It took less than one month from diagnosis to having the surgery. Everything moved so fast.
One month after surgery, I started chemotherapy treatment. I had a four cycle of CAPOX treatment which ended on Thanksgiving weekend. Each cycle lasted three weeks; I had a combination of IV and then mainly oral therapy. Was that due to COVID? I don’t think so. I think it’s just the nature of what I had.
Due to COVID, I could not have anyone with me for the doctors appointments, surgery, or chemotherapy treatment which is the only negative impact of COVID on my experience. So far, all of my follow-ups were over the phone, and that may be the new way going forward after COVID, who knows! I am hoping that those who really need the in-person care get what they need. But I am lucky enough that I can do these over the phone and I feel perfectly fine doing it.
Is there anything meaningful that came from your diagnosis that you wish to share?
I am a fiercely independent person, and I tend to do things on my own. This was the first time in my life where I realized I had to depend on other people to help me out with a few things here and there. That was a huge lesson for me to ask people for help when needed.
When something is wrong, don’t be afraid to call your doctor, you are the first person to know your symptoms. I am not afraid of doctors, I just had no reason to go other than my yearly physicals and the odd thing here and there. Part of me wishes the minute I saw the blood, I would have made that call. But things happened so fast and I was very, very lucky. From a treatment perspective, state of mind is everything. I know that is a cliche to say, but it’s true. I was so lucky that my employer supported me throughout all of it. (I worked throughout my treatment with the exception of a two-week recovery period after surgery). I actually started my CPA in between surgery and chemo.
So for me the biggest lesson learned is that as much as cancer does become a big part of your life, don’t let it stop your life and keep working on your objectives that you have set for yourself. I have learned a lot about chemotherapy, colonoscopies, cancer, and the fact that it is not necessarily a visible disease, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. f you’re getting those cramps or the urgency to defecate, and talk to your doctor.
Did you notice any gaps in resources or information at any point in your experience?
Throughout this process I was certainly on the CCC website numerous times to find out more information about colon cancer, to read about patient stories, and to see what I could do after treatment. , . I was just absorbing all the information as it was presented to me because things were happening so fast.
I wish there was more information regarding the LGBTQ2+ community and cancer. For the most part, we talk about STDs, HIV, things like that but I wish there was more regarding cancer. My thoughts were, if it’s colorectal cancer what does that mean from a sexual activity perspective. Can I still take part in it? Those types of questions came up. Luckily my doctor was able to answer my questions. Afterwards, I was chatting with my friends and we were all discussing that within the [LGBTQ2+] community there really isn’t that much talk about cancer. But the reality is it doesn’t discriminate.
Are there any thoughts you would like to add?
Cancer doesn’t discriminate. That was a big surprise when I was at Princess Margaret Hospital during my chemo and IV treatments. I was walking in thinking I was going to be in a room full of older people. I was gobsmacked by the amount of people that looked younger or around my age. It was not at all what I expected. It really was people of different backgrounds, different ages, different ethnicities, from all walks of life. I was shocked.
From all of us at CCC, we would like to thank Pierre for taking the time to share his EAO CRC story with us. Stories like Pierre’s bring attention to the importance of seeking medical attention when symptoms appear, regardless of age. Click here to learn more about EAO CRC: https://www.colorectalcancercanada.com/colorectal-cancer/early-age-onset-colorectal-cancer/, and stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates on our Never Too Young program.