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Woman diagnosed with colon cancer at 40 urges others to 'keep your rear in the clear'

"Talking about your butt — it’s kind of a sensitive topic," she says. "But I didn't want anyone else to go through what I went through."
/ Source: TODAY

Suzanne Miller was diagnosed with colon cancer at 40. The Peoria, Illinois, mom was reluctant to talk about the disease at first, but almost five years later, she regularly posts about her experience online hoping to make other people aware of the symptoms. Miller recently shared her story with TODAY.

"It's a strange thing to happen to somebody so young," Suzanne Miller said of her colon cancer diagnosis.Courtesy Suzanne Miller

I was never in the hospital for anything other than having our two daughters, so I was always healthy. But I had IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, and a family history of Crohn’s disease.

In August 2016, I was having issues going to the bathroom and I found blood in my stool. I thought maybe it's something I ate.

A couple days passed and there was blood in my stool again. It was just a lot and didn’t seem right. I knew that if it was bright red blood, maybe it was hemorrhoids or something like that that can be fixed, but this was dark blood.

I called my doctor because two times in a week — that had never happened. If something sets off a red flag, I just want to be sure everything is OK.

I was referred to a gastroenterologist who said to be safe, let's go ahead and just schedule a colonoscopy. I thought colonoscopies were for people in their 80s. I was 40 years old. I had been training for a marathon and was extremely healthy. I thought, I shouldn't have any of these kinds of issues.

When they did the colonoscopy, they found an 8-centimeter (3-inch) mass. They were able to get some of it out and sent that to pathology. The doctor then called and told me it was malignant stage 1 cancer in the sigmoid colon. It was something that could be taken out.

You go through all the ranges of emotions. I ran upstairs, told my husband and I just started freaking out. He calmed me down. He's like, let’s take a step back and see what we need to do.

Miller shares a happy moment with her dog Baxter, a "fantastic running buddy," she said. Miller had been training for a marathon when she was diagnosed. Courtesy Suzanne Miller

I consulted with a surgeon at the start of November 2016, and the surgery was scheduled for Nov. 18. He said, “It’s a blessing that you came in and that you found what you found when you did because if you hadn't, in two or three months, it could have been a totally different story.” Colorectal cancer spreads quickly.

It was a laparoscopic surgery, so they went in through my belly button and then they did two other incisions by my pelvis. They cut out an 8-inch part of my colon out that encased the tumor and they put the colon back together.

I was in recovery and then all hell broke loose. I started losing a lot of blood. My body was going into shock. I ended up having to get six pints of blood and I was in the ICU for four days.

It was literally a roller coaster of emotions. Finally, the day that I got to go home, the doctor told us that they got all of the cancer. It did not spread. I did not have to have chemo, radiation or any treatment at all.

I like to get up and go, but it took me a while to get up and go for a few weeks. Six months after my surgery, I was able to run a half marathon.

Miller was eager to return to running after her surgery.Courtesy Suzanne Miller

Anyone who knows me, they know that I'm an open book. I’ll tell it like it is. But I thought, people don't talk about this kind of thing. I had never heard people really talk about colon cancer, talking about your butt — it’s kind of a sensitive topic.

But I also didn't want anyone else to go through what I went through or even worse. So I posted about having surgery to have a tumor removed at 40 years old because of colon cancer. I had many people reach out.

Now, spreading the word about early detection, awareness and how to get checked — that's been something I do on the 18th of every month to mark the date of my surgery.

I write things like “Keep your rear in the clear. Protect your butt. Early detection is key.” Maybe this is TMI, but when you go to the bathroom, turn around and look at it. I've gotten in that habit because I just want to be sure that I'm not going through it again. If you see blood, call your doctor.

Today, I feel great. I went to get a colonoscopy a year after surgery and everything was good. I didn't have to have another one until about a month ago and they told me I didn't have to come back for another five years.

I've always been healthy. It's just so strange that it happened because about two years after I had it, I went to get genetic testing done and I don't have any markers at all.

The new age for getting screened is 45. If your insurance covers it and you're able to get it done, go ahead and get a baseline colonoscopy.

I just hope that people will take it to heart and take care of their bodies.

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.