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A “super active” mom of three diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer is sharing her story to encourage people everywhere to be diligent about their colorectal health.
In 2017, Carly Mesic of Orlando, Fla. was busy juggling life as a wife and mother while working as a restaurant manager, and exercising upwards of five times a week.
“It was honestly the best I have felt since I had my kids,” Mesic said in an interview with The Today Show.
She had just completed a diet and fitness overhaul, dropping 40 lbs. in just six months. By October of that year, she began noticing blood in her stool.
“I knew it wasn’t normal,” she admitted. “But it wasn’t consistent enough to be super-concerned about it at that point.”
Soon, Mesic began experiencing constipation, frequent pain on one side of her abdomen and thin, bloody stools. Mesic visited her doctor, believing her discomfort to be nothing more than haemorrhoids. Despite being referred for a colonoscopy, the busy mom said she rescheduled her appointment several times, believing it was “nothing serious.”
It wasn’t until Aug. 2018 that Mesic decided to go to the hospital, despite her symptoms becoming increasingly severe.
“I don’t know why, but I was at work - it was a Sunday - and I just thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to the ER,” Mesic said. “I’m not dying, but at this point I just have to know what’s going on. I left work and texted my husband telling him I was going to go that night. I went home and changed and left for the ER, not knowing I would end up in the hospital for almost two weeks.”
After a CT scan and a few X-rays, doctors told Mesic and her husband that they had found a tumour the size of an orange in her colon.
“I paused, looked at my husband and was like, ‘Ok, what does this mean?’ They said they were going to admit me because there were also other spots that were suspicious. I said, ‘Suspicious for what?’ They told me cancer and I started to cry.”
Further tests confirmed to doctors that Mesic, who was only 35 at the time, had stage 4 colon cancer and that the cancer had spread to both her lungs and liver.
“I was told that I have probably had cancer for years,” she said. “Years can go by and you’re living with something that can potentially take your life and you have no idea because there are no hard symptoms in the early stages.”
According to Health Canada, colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada. It accounts for 11.9 per cent of new cancer cases and 11.7 per cent of cancer deaths each year.
Although a majority of colorectal cancers occur in adults over 50, it is possible to develop colon or rectal cancer at any age. Regular screening is recommended every two years for adults over 50, but should be discussed with your doctor if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or if you smoke, drink heavily or have a diet high in red meat. All are considered risk factors which can increase your chances of developing colorectal cancers, which studies have shown is on the rise in those under 50.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer can easily be mistaken with other illness, but should not be ignored. Blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or both), stomach discomfort, feeling like you need to evacuate your bowels but producing little stool, vomiting, weight loss, and anemia are all symptoms of colorectal disease that should be brought up with a physician.
Mesic, during her first stay in the hospital, did her best to remain positive.
“I would walk up and down the hallways doing lunges, trying to keep my spirits up, then I would cry my eyes out. I remember crying with the nurse because I didn’t want to leave my kids without a mother,” she said. “I cry every time I think about that - it’s the worst thing to me, knowing how much they would miss me, how much they would be hurting and how I wouldn’t be there to comfort them.”
Mesic, after several rounds of chemotherapy, a surgical resection of her entire sigmoid colon (lower part of large intestine) was performed as well as radiation for the cancer in her liver. In Dec. 2019, scans revealed new tumours in the abdomen after Mesic received emergency surgery for sharp pain in her side.
“I just feel like I was re-diagnosed all over again,” she said of the news. “My doctor said I should spend plenty of time with my kids while I am feeling well.”
Mesic’s children, aged 6 to 14 years old, have been told that she is sick, but she doubts her youngest kids know the severity of her illness.
“My older son always asks how I’m doing and about how my treatments are going,” Mesic said. “We’re going to look into family therapy or someone to talk to that deals with families during these hard times soon.”
Mesic’s best friend, Hilary Vickers, put out a call on social media asking for people to send Valentine’s Day cards to help keep her spirits up as she continues treatment. Vickers has also set up a GoFundMe for the family to help offset medical costs, and send the family on a vacation to make lasting memories.
“When you’re fighting something like this, it’s not only a physical battle, but an emotional and mental one as well,” Vickers said. “Keeping positive and joyful in these hard days is so important, so it’s my goal to do everything I can for her. What better way to encourage her than with an influx of cards filled with love and encouraging words?”
Mesic hopes that by sharing her story, she can encourage people not to ignore potentially serious symptoms and to be diligent about colorectal screening.
“Go to the doctor and get checkups, schedule a random colonoscopy - because why not?” Mesic said. “It doesn’t hurt and it’s better to know you are in the clear than to have something come out of the blue one day.”