Lauren Ricottone had scheduled a colonoscopy, but good news made her put it off for nine months.
As Fox News reports, in 2015, Lauren was still relatively young and healthy, so when she noticed a little blood on her toilet paper, she wasn’t overly concerned. However, at the urging of her husband, Chris, Lauren decided to have a colonoscopy.
“I thought it was just a hemorrhoid or something I ate,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I wasn’t too worried.”
On the day of her colonoscopy, Lauren was going through the preparatory tests, one of which was a pregnancy test. She was about to go under anesthesia when the results came back. Lauren was pregnant.
Not wanting to endanger her baby, Lauren decided to postpone the colonoscopy until after she’d given birth. Her pregnancy was healthy, and she and her obstetrician believed that the occasional bleeding she experienced was from constipation or pregnancy-related hemorrhoids.
In January 2016, Lauren gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But two weeks after the delivery, the new mom experienced an alarming increase in bleeding. She told Yahoo:
“I went to the bathroom and suddenly there was blood everywhere, from both my rectum and vagina. I was so dizzy and weak I could barely stand.”
Lauren went to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with an inflammation of the colon lining. Because she was a nursing mom, she was released, but doctors instructed her to get an emergency colonoscopy.
Lauren went through the procedure still thinking it was probably just hemorrhoids. But that thought vanished as soon as she woke up:
“When I woke up from the procedure, the nurse gave me a big hug and told me she was getting my husband, which I thought was weird.”
When doctors told the young mom that she had stage 3 colon cancer, it took some time to sink in.
“I was in total shock,” she continued. “I didn’t cry — I was in total disbelief. I was so young, and I had no family history of colon cancer. It just didn’t seem possible.”
At her appointment with Dr. Sanjay Reddy, a surgical oncologist with Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Lauren learned that she’d had a very close call.
“The tumor was so large that Dr. Reddy told me it would have perforated my intestine within days,” she said.
Lauren underwent surgery and then began chemotherapy. She had to stop nursing her daughter and couldn’t go back to work because her white blood cell count was so low that it would be dangerous for her to return to her job as an emergency room nurse.
By February 2017, Lauren was done with chemo, recovering, and hoping her cancer was behind her. However, a trip to the emergency room for a persistent stomach bug brought another surprise. Lauren was pregnant again. She told Yahoo:
“I hadn’t ever gotten my period back, but I had just assumed that the chemotherapy had put me into premature menopause.”
The pregnancy meant that Lauren couldn’t undergo the follow-up scans to ensure the cancer was gone. After giving birth to her son, Michael, in August 2017, she finally had the scans and got more bad news. Her cancer had metastasized and spread to her lungs.
“Here I was again, with a newborn and a cancer diagnosis,” she told Yahoo. “We knew we would need around the clock care for a month, and Michael was only four weeks old, so I wrote out a schedule from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and family members and friends took turns coming out to watch the kids while I was recovering.”
Friends set up a GoFundMe page to help the family with expenses. Meanwhile, Lauren worked through chemotherapy, depending on family to help her with the children.
Now, Lauren has been cancer-free for 16 months. While long-term survival rates for colon cancer are not high, the mom of two is determined to be the exception. She told Yahoo:
“I have so much to live for — every time I come home from work and see my kids so healthy and happy, it motivates me to keep fighting.”
Because of her experience, Lauren wants to raise awareness of colon cancer, especially for younger people who might not be aware of the signs.
According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms of colon cancer can be caused by common issues like irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, or infection. However, when they are caused by colon cancer, they show up after the cancer has already begun to spread. That’s why any of these signs are a good reason to see a doctor:
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark or bloody stools
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- A change in bowel habits (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, narrowing of stool) that lasts more than a few days
- Unintended weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue
Regular screening is recommended for those 45 or older. People with a family history of colorectal cancer may want to talk to a doctor about starting screenings earlier.
With the incidence of colon cancer increasing in younger people, age isn’t a reason to ignore the warning signs. As Lauren told Yahoo:
“Even some physicians will brush off bleeding in a 30-year-old as hemorrhoids. But it should still always be checked out with a colonoscopy.”