In the midst of a puzzling increase in incidence among younger adults, a woman who received a stage three colon cancer diagnosis at age 27 has shared her early warning symptoms.
Vanessa Mendico, now 29 years old, characterized herself as “super fit” and said she worked out five or six times per week, ate well, didn’t smoke, and drank alcohol sparingly.
But the Australian youth worker started to worry when blood started showing up in her stool in February of last year.
Her tests were first put on a two-year waiting list, but three months later, after she started having excruciating cramps and a change in her bowel habits, the scan was discussed. These exposed a rectum tumor that was the size of a peach.
Ms. Mendico’s cancer is now in remission after surgery to remove the tumor and nine rounds of chemotherapy. Her case comes as colon cancer diagnoses are mysteriously rising among young adults, with doctors unaware of what might be causing it.
Vanessa Mendico, now 29, described herself as a “super fit” person who exercised five or six times a week, ate healthily, did not smoke and rarely drank alcohol. It came as a surprise to be diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 27
Ms Mendico was initially placed on a two-year waiting list, but moved up after experiencing severe cramps and a change in bowel habits
Colorectal cancer is normally thought of as a disease of the elderly, with more than half of diagnoses being made in people 65 and older.
But a growing number of cases are being diagnosed among younger adults ? with estimates suggesting they could double by 2030 in those under 40.
About 19,500 people under the age of 50 are diagnosed with cancer each year.
Ms Mendico said her first warning sign of cancer was the day after she moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast – having moved about 2,000 kilometers or about 1,200 miles up the country’s east coast.
She went to the doctor with her symptoms, but was placed on a waiting list and told to come back if they got worse.
In the following weeks, she repeatedly returned to doctors with complaints of warning signs, but was rejected by “dismissive” staff.
She said she also began to suffer from fatigue and brain fog, which was likely due to the blood loss and disruption to her diet she was facing.
But, she told the Australian-based publication 7news: “The doctor was very dismissive, I felt like I was overreacting, I felt stupid.”
?I just went blank. I had no words for it,’ said Ms Mendico of the moment she was diagnosed. I remember saying “I just want to go home”. It’s such a horrible feeling to sit in a room and be told you have cancer. The doctor said he had never met anyone with cancer at my age, and that in itself speaks volumes.?
Ms. Mendico is now in remission after surgery to remove the tumor and nine rounds of chemotherapy. She still has to get a colonoscopy every year to make sure it doesn’t come back. She said, ?We’ve been told it all our lives [that cancer’s] an elderly disease. But that is not it. You’re not too young. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, no matter how healthy or how much money you have, anyone can get it’
?It got to the point where I was just bleeding blood. But I was told there was nothing they could do until I got a colonoscopy.”
It was in May that her scan was finally pushed forward, but she had to wait another month for the results.
When she came in to receive them, she immediately knew something was wrong.
?I just went blank. I had no words for it,” she said of the moment she was diagnosed.
“I remember saying, ‘I just want to go home.’ It’s such a horrible feeling to sit in a room and be told you have cancer.
“The doctor said he had never met anyone with cancer at my age, and that in itself speaks volumes.”
Doctors said they found a tumor 2.7 inches wide in her rectum ? or about the size of a peach.
She was first told to freeze some eggs before starting treatment to preserve her fertility.
Ms Mendico then underwent a seven-hour operation to remove the tumor from her rectum and reconstruct her bowel.
Doctors also performed a double loop ileostomy, in which incisions are made in the small intestine to divert stool from the lower digestive tract.
She had to spend two weeks in the hospital learning to walk again and struggling with the pain and discomfort.
Ms. Mendico was then sent for nine rounds of chemotherapy over the course of 18 weeks.
She said she ended up having to spend all her savings on healthcare. Australia has a subsidized healthcare system that requires residents to sign up.
The youth worker was told in April 2023 that her cancer was in remission, but she still needs to have a colonoscopy every year to make sure it doesn’t come back.
She said, ?We’ve been told it all our lives [that cancer’s] an elderly disease. But that is not it.
“You’re not too young. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, no matter how healthy or how much money you have, anyone can get it.’
Doctors aren’t sure what’s causing the rise in youth cases, but scientists suggest antibiotic overuse or yeast infections may be to blame.
Other theories have also pointed to obesity and the rise of a more sedentary lifestyle.
I had colon cancer at 27. These are the symptoms to watch out for