Young woman wants others to know, colon cancer can strike anyone

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- It took one young metro woman three years to get her cancer diagnosed.  She says the delay was mostly because she and her doctors weren't thinking that it could be colon cancer in someone so young.

The first sign came when Ashley Havlena was a 20-year-old college student.  She noticed a red streak in her stool.

"There would be times when I would have completely normal bowel movements, and then a few weeks later, I would see a streak of blood again," said Havlena.

Over time, doctors gave the nursing student various reasons for the blood including hemorrhoids and diet.

"It was mostly because of my age that it got brushed off," she said.

When the bleeding became frequent and heavy, a doctor finally ordered a colonoscopy.  It revealed a huge tumor, stage III cancer in the colon that had spread into lymph nodes.  The diagnosis came three years after her first symptom.

"My cancer could have been prevented," said Havlena.

That's because the cancer starts as a polyp that can be removed during colonoscopy before it becomes cancerous.  Her doctor at K.U. Cancer Center says routine screening colonoscopies aren't recommended for younger adults with no risk factors because colon cancer is uncommon in them.

"But if you have symptoms, it's a different issue and it's not screening anymore.  So bowel changes, bleeding those are things that really should be brought to the attention of your doctor," said Dr. Stuart Hinton.

Havlena says to ask your doctor if you should have a colonoscopy.   She fought cancer with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and more chemo.  It was hard, but she survived to share this message with others.

"It doesn't matter what your age is," she said.

Colon cancer can happen to anyone.  At age 27, Havlena is grateful to be cancer-free, working as a nurse and looking forward to her wedding in June.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.  Go to http://www.kucancercenter.org/gutcheck  for more on prevention, screening and symptoms.

The 5th Annual March Against Colon Cancer will be held Saturday, March 7th, at Oak Park Mall, 95th and Quivira, in Overland Park.

Registration begins at 7:30, with the walk starting at 8:30. For more details and to register, go to http://www.jenniferirelandfoundation.com