“I doubt it is polyps, because of your age.” This is what the general surgeon told me when I went in for a consultation for rectal bleeding at 22. I’d had symptoms for some time; at 16, the doctor suggested it was Irritable Bowel Syndrome and prescribed me some pills (which provided no relief).
Waking up from my first of what would end up being 6 colonoscopies in about six months, the doctor said, “It’s not life or death, but you need to see a specialist,” and called the colorectal surgeon before I even left recovery. My colon was covered in polyps, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that meant.
Turns out, I have Familial Adenomatous Polyposis. While it’s generally passed from parent to child, I’m the first in my family to have it. Along with a colon full of polyps, my stomach was also carpeted.
At 23 years old, I had the first of three surgeries to remove my colon and create a J-pouch. During this seven month process, I had an ileostomy. Before I was discharged from the hospital from the first surgery, I found out that my colon had over 500 polyps, of which two were stage 1 colon cancer. Luckily I had the surgery when I did, otherwise, the cancer would developed into a higher stage and spread outside of the colon. Who would have thought at 23 I would be a colon cancer survivor? Never in a million years.
Fast-forward almost six years, and I’m doing great. While the surgical process was fraught with complications, I’ve had none since I recovered from the last surgery. So far the cancer hasn’t come back, though polyps have grown in my J-pouch. I go every six months for biopsies of polyps in my stomach, duodenum (top of the small intestine, and J-pouch in an attempt to keep me cancer free.
Looking back at day 1 post-colectomy, I have come so far from that hospital visit when I was so weak I couldn’t walk without a walker. In the last two years I’ve run a handful of half-marathons, and just ran my first marathon, and soon I will compete in a figure competition. While F.A.P. is a life sentence, full of scary symptoms and sometimes scarier complications, I’m doing alright. And forever grateful to myself for finally listening to my body and realizing something was wrong. Otherwise, I might not be around today.