My Story

My life as a semicolon began in 2001 when I was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer at age 17. My days of high school theater and algebra were suddenly switched to chemo, radiation and colon surgery. I went through cancer treatment and a colon resection surgery. But after about seven months, I was on my way to healthy living once again.

For eight years, I lived as a happy semicolon. Sure, my awareness for where the bathrooms were located was a tad higher than most of my college friends, but I learned how to live with it. I found a new normal after having about a foot of colon removed, and was happy when the days of food “testing” were over and I knew what I could and couldn’t eat … at least while dining out.

I got married (to my caretaker and high school sweetheart – Mike), finished college and started my first “big girl” job in advertising, hoping to one day work in PR for a cancer non-profit. I was a proud cancer survivor, but considered myself cured; and thankful those days were over.

In 2007, I discovered  The Colon Club while looking for advice for young cancer survivors. This non-profit organization had formed a few years earlier and was made up of people just like me. I’d never met another young colon cancer patient – much less someone in their 20s and 30s! Although my cancer days were behind me, I noticed that the organization accepted applications for young colon cancer survivors to model for their calendar — The Colondar. I figured I’d apply.  Next thing I knew I was flying to upstate New York for a photo shoot and posing as Miss October 2009 — an experience that prepared me for the next leg of my cancer journey.

Colon Cancer:  Take Two

In Dec. 2008, my GI doc (Dr. Marc Taormina – love him) discovered a questionable polyp during a routine colonoscopy. (It had been three years since my last scope.) Because the polyp was concerning and I had a colon cancer history, he recommended a subtotal colectomy (remove all but a few inches of my large intestine) as a way to eliminate much of my cancer risk and prevent its return. I waited a few months until summer (in truth – I wanted to keep my plans and run a colon cancer 5K that spring) and then scheduled surgery. It was during (what we thought was preventative) surgery that we realized the polyp was questionable because it was indeed another cancer. I was then diagnosed with Stage I colon cancer – my second occurrence at age 25.

Processing cancer as a teen versus a twenty-something was a very different experience. Not only was I coping with how to handle living with just inches of bowel — but I was facing new emotions my teenage-self hadn’t handled (or maybe even realized.) Although I didn’t need chemo or radiation again, I was facing the emotional side of cancer in a new way. My friends from The Colon Club helped get me through. And as a way to cope and process the changes, I began my blog, Semicolon Stories. I figured I might as well find a way to share my story and help others while I was at it.

Adopting After Cancer

I struggled after my second diagnosis, not only with the cancer but also with the fertility-side of things. Although I knew adoption was the route for my husband and I to have a family (cancer #1 put us in that boat), we had been looking into the international adoption process. A new cancer diagnosis didn’t only set back our timeline, but it closed a few doors.

After a season of emotional healing, we sought out our options for adopting and had opportunity to work with a domestic adoption agency just a year after my surgery and cancer #2. Doctors cleared me for being a healthy, suitable mother. So on we went to start our home study.

We began the adoption process in September 2010, completed our home study and before our paperwork was ever processed with the adoption agency so pregnant birth moms could see our profile, we had an opportunity come our way to adopt a baby from our hometown. Ironically (or not…), the 4-month old baby girl we adopted in January 2011 was indeed born the very month we began our adoption process.

Diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome

Once the shock of a second cancer passed, our adoption craze settled down and life got to a “new normal,” doctors began talking to me about a genetic condition they suspected caused my cancers — Lynch Syndrome. Genetic testing in 2001 and again in 2009 had indicated something genetically was wrong, but the research was primitive and details unclear. However, because of my young age and two occurrences of colorectal cancer, doctors recommended I be treated as a Lynch Syndrome patient– which involved a total hysterectomy in 2012, a new schedule of yearly colonoscopies and other tests to prevent another cancer occurrence.

In 2013, I was relieved that the hysterectomy wasn’t “for nothing” since it was confirmed that I have Lynch Syndrome. But, I had yet another curve ball come my way when neither my mom nor dad tested positive for the gene variant — meaning that although I have an inherited genetic disease, I didn’t actually inherit it.

And basically – we are all still scratching our heads.

How I’m Handling Everything

Through over a decade of living and fighting colorectal cancer, I’ve experienced many levels and layers to this disease. I’ve ignored it, downplayed it, shared it, been empowered by it and lived in fear of it. I’ve hit just about every physical, emotional, mental and spiritual issue that can come with cancer … and particularly as a young adult.

But I will say through it all, I’ve been blessed with the faith to get me through, support from friends and family and amazing opportunities to use my experience to encourage others (and publicly tell poop jokes.) Everything from my career to my family to my closest friends has been somehow touched and guided by my cancer experience.

In summer 2013, I had another “full circle” moment as I began working for a national colorectal cancer organization – Fight Colorectal Cancer. Putting my PR skills to use (and getting to work in my dream job), I joined the team to become the Director of Communications. I love not only working on things like our website and social media, but also connecting with other survivors in the fight.

While I would not wish colorectal cancer on anyone — and I share my story to try to prevent it in others — I do try to see my experience as a gift God’s given me to share hope. To let others suffering know they are not alone. And to spread a message that while bad things may happen, there is still a lot of good to be had in this world. (Even if I have to remind myself from time to time.)

-Danielle

If you want to read the journey, read the blog’s first post from 2009

Want to see more from Danielle? Check out her devotional blog and read her full bio.

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. vagabondia  |  May 29, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Thank you for sharing your story and this lovely blog! My father was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago. His story really brings home the point that early detection can make a significant difference. We have been blessed to have him for more than 18 months longer than anticipated, and though recent scans confirm that the disease has spread to his liver and is beginning to affect his brain, we have hope that new treatments may help. I really enjoy your informative yet humorous look at the disease and I would love to link to your blog on my family’s facebook page regarding our Undy5000 team page. This is our first year participating in the race and we are very excited to spread the word, raise money for research, and honor our father and others who have been affected by the disease. Please take a look at our page (http://tinyurl.com/ChisumCrew) and let me know if you would feel comfortable with us linking to your blog.

    Thank you again!

    Reply
  • 2. Heather Knox (@Heatherann1908)  |  March 11, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I some how stumbled on to your twitter… I too have Lynch and live a semicolon life. I had to smile when I saw the name of your blog, my family joke is I am a semicolon. I was dx at 28 with an 8 month old daughter. I am hoping to wait till 40 before the rest of my organs that are not needed get ripped out! No one ever really understands my what I can eat verses what I have to stay away! It is nice to meet another young Lynch and fellow colon cancer survivor. Happy Blue Month! 🙂

    Reply
  • 3. M. Gordon  |  July 27, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have some symptoms and have a colonoscopy scheduled for Tuesday, but I am terrified. So terrified I am not sure I can go through with it. Words of encouragement appreciated.

    Reply
    • 4. Danielle B  |  July 29, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Wow, glad you scheduled your scan! The prep truly is the hardest part of the procedure itself. Will hope and pray symptoms lead to nothing – but in the event it’s something here to chat you through that too.

      Reply
  • 5. Dan Evans  |  August 12, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I was wondering if you were the one who wrote the story about Melissa Bates. I’m one of her uncles and I own some weekly newspapers and would like to run that article for my column this week. I want to give you credit for writing it, but it’s difficult to find a name . . . not sure if it was you or someone else that wrote the story. First, is it okay to run the story, and second, please give me a name to give credit to whomever wrote the story. Excellent tribute to a wonderful niece. Thanks. Dan Evans

    Reply

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