Jolene’s story: When turning 40 also comes with a shock cancer diagnosis

Hitting the age of 40 can be a bit of a shock for anyone. But what if it came with a Stage 3 colorectal cancer diagnosis?

Jolene led a busy, full life as a phlebotomist for a medical lab, raising two teenage daughters and working in her garden in her spare time. She had just celebrated her big milestone birthday when she started experiencing some bleeding from the bowels.

She went to her GP who ordered a colonoscopy. Jolene thought she must be overreacting. But when the procedure was over, the surgeon asked her to call her husband.

“That’s when I knew it wasn’t good,” Jolene remembers. “I felt numb.”

Jolene standing in a graduation gown
Jolene, recently.

As a medical professional herself, she was familiar enough with cancer. But she never expected it to happen to her.

“I would describe it as almost an out-of-body experience,” she says. “It was a strange feeling being diagnosed with something I was so familiar with in my work, but now this was my reality. Not someone else’s.”

Jolene knew enough about colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, to be worried about the long-term impact on her life. The period leading up to surgery was nerve-wracking for her as she wondered if she would be going home “with a colostomy bag or not”.

The surgery went well, but chemotherapy really brought home her diagnosis. Jolene really began to feel like a cancer patient.

“The chemotherapy was brutal. Hard. And it felt like a relentless cycle of my body hurting and aching.”

To her surprise, Jolene found comfort and strength in returning to work as a phlebotomist. She found a new connection with the people she saw, every day.

“During my chemo I could understand exactly what the patients who were coming in for their blood tests were going through and we would chat about how we were getting through it. I think it saved my sanity.

“Sometimes the patients would say that having their blood test done by someone going through it as well was a huge help for them, too.”

After six months of chemotherapy, Jolene is in remission, and she’s become a fierce advocate for GI cancer patients. She’s passionate about research and about giving patients more opportunity to be actively involved in their treatment from the start.

Above all, she feels it’s important to be open and honest about colorectal cancer because she wants people to know they’re not alone – and what to look out for.

Her best piece of advice? Don’t ignore symptoms, no matter how small they seem.

“Get checked out. It could save your life.”

Thank you Jolene for sharing your story. Learn more about colorectal cancer.

You can help make new treatments happen for colorectal cancer and other GI cancers. Donate to our research today.