Yesterday, CBS show “The Doctors,” featured the story of an African-American colorectal cancer survivor. Shannon Sylvain, a 33-year-old woman from Los Angeles, visited the show to share her story of being diagnosed with the disease two weeks before her 32nd birthday.
“About two years ago, I went to see my primary care physician,” Sylvain explained. “In telling her my symptoms, she got greatly concerned and told me that I needed to have a colonoscopy. I was really reluctant to do it, but my husband convinced me. The following day, I got the phone call that I had stage 4 colorectal cancer.”
As Sylvain told her story, she teared up a bit, saying, “I’ll never forget that moment.”
What makes Sylvain’s story so unique is that her symptoms were not new. At 23, she went to see her OB/GYN because she was experiencing stomachaches, fatigue and seeing blood in her stool. The OB/GYN told her that those symptoms were due to poor diet and stress so Shannon changed her diet, saw improvements, and thought, “problem solved.” However, the symptoms never really went away. She said that she just “got used to them.”
In hindsight, they were signs of colorectal cancer, and after eight years, she was correctly diagnosed. Although the news shocked her core, she moved forward with treatment. Two feet of her colon was removed and she endured six months of chemotherapy and then daily radiation. She said that living with cancer is a “challenge, but I have amazing family and friends. I am here to fight this cancer.”
In addition to fighting the disease, she is also raising awareness about its symptoms and risk factors through her non-profit, Brown Sugar Rehab. The organization takes a unique approach to educating people about how excessive sugar consumption can encourage abnormal cell growth, aka, cancer.
Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, also appeared on “The Doctors,” and explained that the current recommendation to get colon cancer screenings is at the age of 50. However, she noted that a recent study came out showing that colon cancer is increasing in young adults. Sylvain is an example of that, which is why she stressed the importance of early detection.
“A lot of times you are told – or made to think – that you should think about these things later on, but I was 31,” she said. Although Sylvain didn’t fit the common age profile of someone who would be at risk for colon cancer, as an African-American woman, she did.
Dr. Lewis-Hall stated “African-Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidents and mortality rate in the U.S.” And, unfortunately, the medical community does not know why this is.
As for Sylvain, her battle hasn’t quite yet ended. While she went through a period of remission earlier this year, the cancer has now spread to her liver. While she continues treatment, she said that she is “just living life to the fullest.” With the hashtag #ImStillHere, she continues to move forward fighting her fight and hoping that we all, especially African-American women, do the same by getting screened.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the following symptoms, Sylvain and Dr. Lewis-Hall recommend you consider getting screened:
- Changes in Bowl Habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, the narrowing of stool that lasts for more than just a few days, and also the feeling that you have to have a bowel movement that isn’t relieved after you’ve actually had a bowel movement.
- Rectal Bleeding
- Dark Stools
- Weakness and Fatigue
- Unintended Weight Loss
- Cramping or Abdominal Pain
Watch Sylvain’s story in the video below. For more information on Brown Sugar Rehab, visit www.brownsugarrehab.org.
Renese spends her mornings writing, her days securing insurance for TV shows, and her in-betweens blogging about the silliness and seriousness of life on her blog. Follow Renese on Twitter: @reneseford