At 17, most teenagers are a hub of energy, busily taking on the challenges of college prep, managing friends and a budding social life. For Jessica Joseph, a stage III colorectal cancer diagnosis in December 2016 shifted her focus to advocacy on what was once popularly considered an "old man's disease." As a young person dealing with cancer, Jessica has refused to approach her diagnosis with a defeatist mindset and through self-motivation coupled with a strong support system, acknowledges her disease and declares that it does not define or consume her. The severity of her condition is not lost on the young advocate and would encourage patients to speak honestly and positively with friends and family on the topic.
What's your name & connection to colorectal cancer? My name is Jessica Joseph and I was diagnosed December 2016 with stage III Colon Cancer at 17.
Can you share your story, from symptoms to diagnosis? A year before my diagnosis I had stomach pain and was told I probably just had IBS. My stomach pain went away and I didn’t think anything of it. A few months ago I had a fever and stomach pain and went to my pediatrician thinking I had the stomach bug. A CT scan showed an 8cm tumor on my colon with enlarged lymph nodes and I was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Because of my age the doctors never thought it was Colon Cancer.
How did you talk to your friends and family about cancer? Any tips you can share? As a young person dealing with cancer I’ve realized it is always almost harder on our parents. When I talk to my friends and family about cancer I try to be positive and honest with them. It is very easy to let a serious diagnosis consume your life but you have to remember you are not your diagnosis. I have cancer but I am not my cancer. I make it clear to my friends and family that I’m still the same Jessica I just need a little more support here and there.
What's helped keep you focused during treatment? Sticking to your normal routine helps a lot during treatment. For me, going to school while on treatment is tough, but it keeps my mind busy and focused on something other than my cancer. Starting a new hobby or activity you enjoy is a great way to focus your energy on something positive while going through treatment. Yoga and acupuncture have been a great way to de-stress during treatment. Also, surrounding yourself with supportive and caring friends is so valuable.
What message would you like to share with the public about colorectal cancer? Don’t ignore any symptoms you may be having! Stomach pain is not normal! Be your own advocate! It’s not just old person cancer even a 17 year old can get it. You know your body better than anyone else and if you feel like something is wrong don’t be afraid to get screened.