Survivor Spotlight: “I was diagnosed at 24 with Stage 4.”

Left: Carly walks hand-in-hand with her boyfriend in the 2021 Kicking Butt 5K.

My name is Carly, and I was diagnosed in June of 2019 at 24. 

Before that I had been experiencing pretty typical symptoms: weight loss, blood in stool, abdominal pain, and I had even begun to feel a mass in my side. 

I called a GI and shared all my symptoms and they scheduled me for an appointment 4 months out. I continued to feel all the symptoms leading up to the appointment but didn’t do anything more since I had an appointment coming up.

I went on a 10-day European trip with a couple of friends traveling from London and Croatia to Barcelona. On the flight home from Barcelona, the pain in my abdomen had become so intense the flight attendance cleared a row for me to lay down to try and relieve some pain. We made it to New York for the night, and then finally made it back to Louisville. 

I was picked up from the airport and went straight to the ER where I would remain in the hospital for 3 weeks. 

On June 16 2019 I was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. I had a 6 hour exploratory surgery. They removed a 5 pound tumor (the mass I had felt up to 4 months prior), 2 feet of my colon, an ovary, and several lymph nodes. I also gained an ostomy bag. During my stay in the hospital, the GI office where I scheduled an appointment called complaining that I missed my appointment. 😒

Before starting my first round of chemotherapy, I was able to go through 1 egg retrieval operation with my 1 remaining ovary. They were able to retrieve 14 eggs giving me hope for future children. 

In August 2019 I started chemotherapy (FOLFOX) and simultaneously went back into the classroom, after my summer break spent in the hospital, as a 4th grade elementary teacher. I completed 6 rounds before the cancer spread to my liver. With the progression we switched to another form of chemotherapy, folfiri. I completed 4 rounds of this type of treatment that kept the cancer stable. 

My oncologist suggested in December 2019 that I start looking for second opinions in my treatment plan. I was either going to continue this chemo treatment that was keeping the cancer stable or move onto immunotherapy. 

I scheduled 3 appointments for second opinions. I first went to the Cleveland clinic where I was told there wasn’t anymore treatment options and that immunotherapy probably wouldn’t work, and to go home and be comfortable. Next, I went to Ohio State University. They suggested to continue on with chemotherapy until it stopped working. My last appointment was at Vanderbilt on Jan 2, 2020. They offered me an immunotherapy clinical trial, with tecentriq. 

I started immunotherapy in February 2020. My body started responding to the treatment immediately. Each scan showing a greater response. I completed immunotherapy at Vanderbilt in March 2021. It was suggested I stop because of inflammation and severe colitis as a side effect. 

Today I go to Vanderbilt every 3 months for a scan. Even being off of immunotherapy for nearly a year, my body is still responding in the right direction, scans being nearly normal. They are unable to announce me “cancer free” from scans alone due to being Stage 4 without a biopsy. 

On June 1, 2022, I am scheduled for a colostomy reversal and biopsy.

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of colon cancer, tell your doctor you need a colonoscopy immediately. Click here to learn more about the rise of young colon cancer.