NBC News correspondent Antonia Hylton is sharing for the first time that she was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, a neuroendocrine tumor.
As a journalist on the road, Hylton, 30, was used to waking up feeling out of sorts. But, about two years ago, she started having constant stomach issues.
At first, it was "easy for me to just write it off," Hylton told TODAY's Craig Melvin. She said she'd tell herself, "I travel, I'm on planes (and) maybe I don't have the best diet. But I love what I do, so it's worth it and I'm not going to let these symptoms hold me back."
In August, however, she saw a segment on the TODAY show in which Craig retold the story of his brother's death due to colon cancer.
"Something about that really stuck with me," she said. That, plus a TikTok video of a woman diagnosed with colon cancer at 24, convinced Hylton to take her symptoms more seriously.
At the same time, her symptoms were getting worse. “I was waking up (and) my face was swollen. I was having trouble going to the bathroom for days on end,” she said.
Hylton tells TODAY.com that she recalls not being able to have a bowel movement for days, and when she finally was able to, "the pendulum swung in the other direction, almost like I couldn't leave the bathroom."
Three weeks after her screening — on her 30th birthday — Hylton came home from a reporting trip to find that her doctor had left her a bunch of messages.
The screening test revealed that she had a polyp in her colon. It turned out to be a neuroendocrine tumor, which is a rare type of cancer that releases hormones into the bloodstream.
"I was panicking," Hylton said.
Neuroendocrine tumors are rare, Dr. Nooshin Hosseini, a gastroenterologist and Hylton's doctor, said on the TODAY show during a Nov. 30 segment.
While the tumors can occur anywhere in the body, Hosseini explained, they most commonly develop in the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the small intestine.
The symptoms depend on where in the body the tumor is, Hosseini said. Neuroendocrine tumors that are found in the colon or rectum tend to have symptoms similar to those of colon cancer, such as:
- Blood in the stool.
- Change in bowel habits.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Abdominal pain.
The good news for Hylton was that her doctor caught the tumor early. "I had a series of procedures to remove tissue and screening tests to see if the cancer had spread," she said.
"The last scan showed I'm all clear."
But the experience left Hylton with some major lessons about her body and her health.
"I learned a really important lesson at 30 to listen to myself and to put myself first," she explained. "I love my job. I worked hard here at NBC, and I'm not going to stop doing that. But I've learned the lesson that I really need to put my health first and not push these things off."
It's a message she tries to send to other young professionals who might be tempted to wait to get their health concerns checked out. Taking that time for yourself isn't going to sideline you, she tells TODAY.com. Instead, it's "what allows you to be around for other people and to reach your goals and allows you to make your dreams come true."
Knowing that communities of color are disproportionately affected by colon cancer and may have trouble finding medical care they trust, Hylton encourages people in those communities to push through to get the care they deserve — especially when it comes to cancer.
“I completely understand and empathize, and I see the impacts of that in my reporting and my family day to day,” Hylton says. “But my message would be that finding that person who you trust can be life-saving.”
She's also thankful that her family shared their history of health issues with her so she could be better prepared when she went to the doctor.
"On my father's side, (I have) the more classic colon cancer and the symptoms you typically think about. And then on my mom's side, my grandmother ... actually had a neuroendocrine tumor as well," she said. "I'm grateful that I have a family that talks about these things so I was armed with that information."
Hylton will continue to receive regular colonoscopies and now considers herself a "colonoscopy evangelist." While it may not be the most fun activity, she wants to lead by example for those around her, she says.
"Instead of being embarrassed about the bathroom symptoms," Hylton says, "I really try to emphasize that I feel so good and so proud of myself for taking action."