32-year-old mom from NJ got colon cancer — People are sharing her message
CLIFTON — Jennifer Waller went to the doctor to check up on some "vague belly pain." After a colonoscopy, her doctor delivered the news that no 32-year-old woman expects to hear.
She had colon cancer.
Just days after the diagnosis, the mother of two young children took to social media to share her diagnosis and spread a message about the importance of early screening for cancer. The video has been shared hundreds of times by people who have been moved and inspired by her message.
Waller said she had no family history of colon cancer, and none of the warning signs that she — as a nurse — would be on the lookout for.
"Here I am saying the word that makes me so nauseous," she said. "Just to say I have cancer is just so bizarre."
Her cancer journey started in the spring with abdominal pain that would "come and go." It became more frequent and eventually just started to "feel a little off." She also lost about 12 pounds, which caught the attention of her doctor during a regular physical. She said she had planned to get a colonoscopy in June, but her insurance company would have only covered some of it, leaving her to pay close to $3,000. She eventually got the procedure to be covered and found a doctor who got her in for the screening.
Regular screening for colon cancer usually starts at age 50. If she had waited, she points out, she would have died.
After the initial diagnosis, she felt a wide range of emotions. In the end, she found a determination that she believes will take her through the next steps of this process. The determination is also crystal-clear in the video.
"All I can say is bring it. You have no idea how strong a woman you're messing with," she says, adding that she is determined to fight. "What's my other option? To roll over and give up? I came from far too little do to that."
Since the video was posted on Aug. 29, it has been shared more than 200 times and viewed by more than 23,000 people. Waller said the reaction has been almost entirely positive and helped her get through the initial shock. She said that has also shown her that she is accomplishing her goal of awareness.
"You hear about women getting breast cancer and things like that at younger ages. You rarely ever hear about colon cancer," she said. "I figured I would make somebody aware so that they could hopefully get screened early, because obviously the earlier that you screen you have a better treatment plan, you're not as far along, and you get more options."
Waller said she told her 8-year-old son only that mommy has a "boo boo in her stomach" and that she would be in the hospital for five days, which he said he was OK with. She said that after her 3-year-old daughter overheard her talking to her brother, she told her mother that she was going to take care of her mom the same why she takes care of her.
Dr. Howard Hochster, of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said that screening for colon cancer is important for anyone over 50. While that is the norm for screening, he said it was important for people to be aware of their bodies and be wary of certain symptoms.
The most troubling to be aware of, he said, are gastrointestinal issues like bleeding, difficulty having regular bowel movements and sometimes even fatigue or shortness of breath as people can become anemic from blood loss. While there are different ways to screen for colon cancer, Hochster said colonoscopy is the most effective method available.
"Colonoscopy is the one that people probably avoid the most, but it is the one test that has been proven to actually reduce the incidence of the cancer they're looking for," he said. "If you go for a colonoscopy and they remove your polyps you will not develop colon cancer from that polyp in the next number of years. That is the key reason that we encourage people to have these colonoscopies."
Waller said she is definitely nervous about her upcoming surgery, and the possibility of chemotherapy, but she said she is hopeful that her message can help others get the help they need to catch their cancer early as well.
"I really just hope that people take care of each other. The world we live in is crazy and we need to help each other and bring back kindness," she said. "I think that that is the whole point of this crazy life, is to help other people. I hope that that video helps others to help more people and more people and more people."
Information on colon cancer screening can be found on the website for an organization called Screen NJ. On its website the project is described as being "committed to reducing cancer incidence and mortality through an effective cancer prevention and screening program."