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'Last thing on my mind': Man was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at 23

Isaac Moel initially ignored his gastrointestinal issues, until they become so severe he wound up in the ER.

For about a year, Isaac Moel experienced some gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach cramps and constipation. At first, he thought little about it until they worsened. Then he learned what seemed to be impossible: At just 23 years old, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer.

“I was just in shock, disbelief. Cancer was the last thing on my mind. I never thought it would happen to me,” the now 25-year-old from Iowa City, Iowa, told TODAY. “When you hear about (colorectal) cancer you think about older people.”

Isaac Moel never suspected his stomach cramps and GI issues were a sign of colorectal cancers - especially because he was so young. Courtesy Joy Moel

Moel is sharing his story to encourage others to seek care when they’re not feeling well.

“It’s definitely made me take my health a lot more seriously,” he said. “I really encourage other people my age to take their health seriously. I never thought it would happen to me. You never think it’s going to happen to you.”

Severe stomach cramps reveal something more

For about a year, Moel experienced stomach cramps and some constipation. At first it seemed annoying, but he suspected that his diet contributed to his discomfort.

“There was nothing in my family history to suggest that it would be anything serious. But I just didn’t take the symptoms very seriously,” Moel said. "I had a pretty physical job and I was getting plenty of exercise, so I figured it was probably nothing.”

Then the cramps became so severe that he’d find himself on the floor in pain with fevers and chills. He dropped weight because he couldn’t eat. So he visited the doctor to understand what was happening. After a few examinations and tests, Moel underwent a scan in 2019.

“They did some virus test to see if I had some kind of virus or if I was sick. They got to a point where they’d send me home and I went back to the emergency room just a few days later,” he said. “I was just getting more and more sick and I couldn’t eat.”

While Isaac Moel is undergoing maintenance chemotherapy for stage 4 colorectal cancer, he is feeling healthy enough to try to start up his farm this spring. Courtesy Joy Moel

The scan revealed that Moel had a mass on his colon and some throughout his abdomen. He had surgery to remove the tumor in his colon and then 12 rounds of chemotherapy.

“I was lucky that I was young and I was able to handle a pretty intense regimen that could shrink the tumors in my liver because initially they were inoperable,” he said. “They removed them and some polyps in my abdomen.”

While doctors did declare “no evidence of disease,” Moel has since had a recurrence and had surgery in September 2020 to remove the new growths.

“It’s definitely all had an effect on me and I’m not able to do a lot of the same stuff I’ve been able to do in the past.,” he said. “It just throws my body off, having so much done to it.”

Colon cancer on the rise in young people

Many people think that colorectal cancer occurs only in older adults, but doctors have recently noticed an increase in colorectal cancer in adults in their 20s and 30s. That’s why raising awareness of symptoms remains essential. Signs of colorectal cancer include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Iron deficiency
  • Abdominal pain
  • Narrow stools
  • An urge to have a bowel movement
  • Unexplained weight loss
Isaac Moel has been through a lot, but he has discovered how supportive and loving his family and friends are and has decided to enjoy life as much as he can. Courtesy Joy Moel

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths, excluding some types of skin cancer.

Living with cancer

While Moel hasn’t been able to work since his diagnosis, he is hoping that he can start farming and just purchased four miniature goats. He plans on adding more animals to his “homestead.” Even though having cancer has been tough, Moel is enjoying life.

“I’m pretty happy with how my life has been moving forward despite my diagnosis,” he said. “Cherish your life and do what makes you happy because you never know when this kind of thing can happen.”

So far Isaac Moel has had 20 chemotherapy infusions, three surgeries and loads of outpatient procedures to help treat his stage 4 cancer. Courtesy Joy Moel

But he also hopes others, especially young people, won’t avoid seeing a doctor if they notice something wrong.

“Make sure you’re informed and you’re asking your doctors questions and you’re getting seen regularly,” he said. “If you can catch it early you have a chance to beat it.”