SAN ANTONIO – Doctors are warning of the increase numbers of younger people being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Edna Bubenik has first-hand experience with the disease, and three decades later, her doctors say she is a living miracle.
"I was really meant to be here, for a reason," she said.
Now age 66, Bubenik was a brand-new mom when she was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 32.
"I think I had some of the issues, as young person, you just don't really address," she said. "I had diarrhea, I had rectal bleeding, but not often enough to where it was bothersome, but I kept attributing it to the pregnancy."
So did her doctors, but they were wrong.
Just after giving birth, she noticed a lump in her abdomen. By the time she was diagnosed, it was advanced colon cancer.
"That was back in the early 80's. There was no treatment for colon cancer, particularly in advanced cancer," she said. "My prognosis at that time was very, very poor. In fact, my oncologist told me to go home, get things in order, that I might survive a year."
Bubenick went through weekly treatments of chemotherapy for a year, then for two years every other week, all while still teaching. Her cancer never returned, even though her doctors spent years expecting it to.
Dr. Randall Rogers, a colorectal surgeon with CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, says colon cancers used to be rare in people under 50, but that's changing.
"Since maybe '92, there's been a 2 percent-per-year increase in young people getting it, meaning under 50," he said, "That's a significant number because those patients are diagnosed late and they aren't sent for colonoscopies because they are so young."
He cites bad eating habits in young people for the up-tick, and urges them to take care of their bodies with protective measures.
"I think there's a 50% lower death rate of people who take aspirin every day, Calcim seems to have protective effects," he said.
Obesity and diet also play a factor. Dr. Rogers said one of the most important dietary factors is red meat, particularly in women.
"The worst type of meats are those that are processed, smoked, cured," he said. "People that eat a lot of barbecue tend to be at an increased risk because the smoke content that is deposited on the meats."
He also said it is a good idea to quit smoking.
Colonoscopies aren't recommended until the age of 50, but there are exceptions. Dr. Rogers says people who have had ulcercolitis, radiation, breast cancer, or endometrial cancer, those all increase risk.
He also suggests anyone with a family history starts getting checked at age 40, or 10 years younger than the person you are related to that had the cancer.
Symptoms range from changes in stool, to bleeding and, in young people, abdominal pain. Rogers says any symptom related to the colon or rectum need to be seen by a doctor.
If detected early, colon cancer is curable.
Bubenik said because of her family history and her own diagnosis, her daughter got screened at 18. As it turned out, her daughter had a pre-cancerous tumor in her colon -- the same cancer Bubenik had. The screening, she said, saved her daughter from having an advanced cancer like she did.
"Because it's an embarrassing thing ... people don't want to talk about it, I don't even like talking about it. But it is absolutely critical," she said. "It will prevent that cancer, or that predisposition to cancer, from turning into full-blown cancer that could take your life."
Rogers has a podcast about colorectal cancers. You can find it here.
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