What you need to know about colorectal cancer

December 4, 2007 12:00:00 AM PST
Find out the warning signs of a deadly cancer that's not discussed often enough but can strike anyone at any age. Learn more about colorectal cancer.

Women significantly underrate their risk for colon cancer, even though they are just as likely to have it as men. In this health segment, we were joined by two Bay Area survivors, Heather Maes and Mark Weiss, who are part of a unique support group designed to show us that colon cancer can affect anyone.

Colon Club: www.colonclub.com
The Colon Club is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of colorectal cancer in out-of-the-box ways. Our goals are to educate as many people as possible, as early as possible, about the risk factors and symptoms of colorectal cancer, and for people to get screened when it's appropriate for them.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

  • The most common symptom is no symptom at all
  • Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, narrow stools)
  • Unexplained weight loss, vomiting, lack of energy, unexplained anemia
  • Blood (often not visible) in the stool (poop) or from rectum (bum)
  • Abdominal pain/discomfort (gas, bloating, cramps, feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely)
  • If you have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, see a doctor and get a colonoscopy!

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    Mark Weiss' Bio
    From the outside, Mark Weiss was finally living his dream. He left Silicon Valley to run a bakery and B&B in wine country, was married to a wonderful woman, and they were expecting their first child.

    Mark's only complaints were some rectal bleeding and fatigue that were attributed to hemorrhoids and working too hard. After a year of worsening symptoms, Mark's doctor scheduled a colonoscopy that uncovered an obstructing tumor. Mark was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer at 32, the night before his daughter's birth.

    Although he was facing harsh side effects from chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Mark and his wife continued to run the bakery to stay financially afloat. Through his physical and financial struggles, Mark never forgot his reasons to live - his wife and baby girl. One of the greatest lessons he learned was that a support network and counseling are crucial not only for patients but also for families.

    Today, Mark and his wife treasure every day together and have dedicated a cottage on their property as a retreat for people dealing with cancer. Their daughter is a constant reminder for both of them of how important and inspiring family can be in the most difficult times.
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    Heather Maes' Bio
    Heather Maes had been dieting and considered herself lucky as the weight came off so easily. But she knew something was wrong after losing 30 pounds and having irregular bowel movements and rectal bleeding. She saw a doctor and was misdiagnosed with hemorrhoids and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

    After almost a year, her doctor finally referred her to a gastroenterologist who gave her a colonoscopy "for her own peace of mind." At 28, Heather was diagnosed with stage IV rectal cancer that had spread to her lungs and part of her liver.

    Heather had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and has a permanent ostomy. Before cancer, Heather put her work before everything and believes the path she was on would have made her a person she wouldn't like. She believes that cancer is a gift that has taught her to slow down and appreciate her children, her family and herself much more.

    She writes a blog as a way to update her friends and family, and her local newspaper prints her stories as a regular column. She also speaks publicly about colorectal cancer, and feels that this is what she's supposed to be doing with her life - talking, writing and sharing her story.