January 10, 2024

Colorectal cancer awareness important for young adults

Amy Miller at a bowling alley

When Amy Miller was diagnosed with colon cancer, her immediate thought was about her three young children.

“At the time of my diagnosis, the only important thing left to do in my life was be here to guide my kids and watch them grow up,” Miller said.

Miller, a UW Health registered nurse, was diagnosed in 2014 at 30 years old. Because of this, Miller is an advocate for early screenings and listening to your body. She and her family also support colorectal cancer research at UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center by attending the Bowlin’ for Colons fundraiser, happening this year on March 3. Register your team at give.wiscmedicine.org/bowlin.

“Colon cancer is a curable cancer because of funds raised and research done over the last few decades, and I am so grateful for that,” Miller said. “My biggest hope is that Bowlin’ for Colons emphasizes the importance of screening. Screening saves lives, no doubt about it.”

Dr. Sam Lubner, a Carbone Cancer Center oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal cancers, encourages people to pay close attention to any sort of new symptoms they may be experiencing within their body. Colorectal cancer encompasses cancers that originate in the colon or rectum, and it is the third most common cancer in men and women in the U.S.

Although Miller was younger than typical colorectal cancer patients, the fastest growing segment of the population being diagnosed are those under the age of 50. As a result, the recommended age for a colonoscopy screening has decreased from 50 to 45 in recent years. A family history of colorectal cancer can also influence risk and screening.

“Just because you are young, it does not mean you are protected against getting cancer,” Lubner said. “When it comes to colon cancer, it is easier to cure in the early stages. Early detection means a lot.”

Some symptoms associated with colorectal cancer include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and weight loss. Miller, a nurse for 17 years, has spent 16 of those years working in the operating room. Because of her medical experience, she recognized quickly that something was not right with her symptoms.

“Be your best advocate, ask questions, push for answers, write things down, follow-up,” Miller said. “Do not wait for them to call you and be a part of your care as much as possible.”

While Miller was working full time and raising three young children, she received oral chemotherapy and radiation. She then went through surgery and seven rounds of IV chemotherapy. Her treatment lasted about seven months, during which she met with Lubner in their routine biweekly appointments.

“I get to know my patients very well, which is wonderful, but I get to know them in one of the most terrible parts of their life,” Lubner said. “I cheer them on through it all.”

During those difficult months, Miller relied on support from her loved ones, family and friends.

“Even if it wasn’t concrete, something as simple as checking in with a text meant a lot to me. Even if I didn’t always have the energy to respond, I always appreciated the well wishes,” Miller said.

Nearly 10 years cancer-free, she is enjoying life with her family.

“I’m making lots of memories with my kids, watching them grow up and do great things,” Miller said.