I Was Diagnosed With Colon Cancer at 31 While 7 Months Pregnant

sally jane waite
Sally Waite

Sally Jane Waite had intense stomach aches on and off for years but never thought much of them. Then, when she was 31 -- and seven months pregnant -- she learned she had stage IV colon cancer.

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Last year alone, nearly 133,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer -- cancer of the colon or rectum. It accounts for just over 8 percent of all cancer deaths.  

Too often, colon cancer is mistakenly thought of as an "old person's disease," and true, 68 is the median age of diagnosis. But people of any age can get it -- like Sally Jane.

Here, the now 34-year-old mom and jewelry designer tells The Stir how she managed to get diagnosed, cope with treatment, and live to tell about it.

CafeMom: How did you find out you had cancer?

SJW: At seven months pregnant, I began having severe stomach pain, which I knew was not normal. I was admitted to the hospital, and after an ultrasound, my doctors discovered what they thought was a cyst on my ovary ... It was decided that I needed to have surgery to remove it. A week later, I received a call from my doctor saying that the cyst was, in fact, a tumor. I was floored.

The first oncologist I saw told me that my only option was chemotherapy and that on average I had two years left to live.

CafeMom: In hindsight, what symptoms had you been having?

SJW: The stomach aches and seeing blood in my stool were red flags that I should have raised to my doctor. I had been dismissing them as digestive problems and often tried to eliminate different foods from my diet, thinking, "Maybe I'm lactose intolerant?" "Maybe I'm allergic to almonds?"

Given my age, cancer was never a consideration of mine.

CafeMom: Considering that you were seven months pregnant, what went through your head? You must have been terrified.

SJW: With no family history of cancer and being only 31, I was absolutely shocked. I could not comprehend how quickly my life had been turned upside down. It went from being the most magical time in my life to an absolute nightmare ... I had wanted everything for my new baby and now I was faced with the reality that I may not even be there to watch him grow up.

More from CafeMom: 7 Things You Can Do Right Now to Prevent Cancer

CafeMom: What was your treatment like? 

SJW: I was induced at eight months pregnant and delivered my son naturally. My doctors felt it was important for me to spend a week at home with Sam before beginning treatment.

Altogether, I had 11 rounds of chemotherapy, two liver resections (the cancer had spread there as well), and surgery, which involved removal of all cancer within the peritoneal cavity. Each procedure took an intense toll on my body and almost six months to fully recover from.

CafeMom: How did you manage to stay positive?

SJW: My son, husband, family, and care team kept me going each day. Having Sam and undergoing cancer treatment marked the best and worst of life mixed into one year.

I didn't want Sam or myself to miss out on such a special time in our lives just because I had cancer. I wanted him to have a mom who was present and celebrated every milestone he achieved with love and happiness. He pushed me to recover as best and as quickly as possible so I could get home to be with him. 

sally jane waite and family

CafeMom: How are you doing today?

SJW: Today, I'm living my dream of owning a jewelry company that I began before I was pregnant. As I began to feel better, I knew it was important for me to show Sam that I had grown from all that I'd been through and that I was not going to be held back by fear.

The company is called Sally Jane and our designs are based around a bee. It's a reminder to "bee courageous, bee bold, and bee a survivor." With each purchase, we give $1 to supportive care programs and research in immunotherapy.

I've currently had a small setback with metastasis in my abdominal muscle, but with more chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, my doctors believe I should make a full recovery.

I'm still able to enjoy meeting up with other moms, playdates with Sam, and helping him with his current obsession of putting together wooden train sets!

CafeMom: What advice do you have for others about colorectal cancer?

SJW: Overlooking symptoms that may be confused as IBS or digestive problems can lead to late diagnosis and poor prognosis. If you feel that something is not right, pursue it with your doctor until you have a definitive answer.

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