shocked look on Jelena's face

Welcome back to Life as a Cancer Survivor! Jelena here, and today I’m going to tell you about my diagnosis story. In case you missed my last video on all the symptoms I was experiencing leading up to this point, link is in the description below. Check that out so you’ve got a little insight on what got me to this point.

colonoscopy prep itemsSo, referencing the last video, May 19, 2016, is the date that I found out I wasn’t allergic to any kinds of foods and gluten-free diet didn’t work, didn’t alleviate the symptoms so I was referred to a colonoscopy. The turnaround was quick so the next day I was at the grocery store buying all the supplies that I needed for my prep…Bisacodyl, Magnesium Citrate, a 14-day supply of powdered laxative (also known as Miralax), and a 64oz. jug of Gatorade…my flavor of choice was lemon-lime.

I started the prep on a Sunday, and it turned out that it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The worst part for me was being hungry and not being able to eat for the entire day before. That prep on Sunday started with me taking 2 tablets of Bisacodyl at noon. Then at 2pm I mixed the entire jug of powdered laxative in a pitcher with the entire 64 ounces of Gatorade, mixed it up, and put it in the refrigerator to cool so it would be more palatable when it was time for me to start drinking it for the prep.

At 6pm I had to drink 2 glasses of water, the entire 10-ounce bottle of Magnesium Citrate, and another 2 glasses of water. By the time I was done with that part I forgot completely about my hunger because I was up to my eyeballs in liquid!

At 5am on Monday is when the Gatorade/Miralax prep began. I had to drink an 8-ounce glass every 15 minutes until that 64 ounces was completely gone. At the beginning, I kind of had some cramping, probably because my system had no idea why I was taking a 14 day supply of laxative in 2 hours. But it eventually, the cramping, eased up and I finished the prep without too much difficulty.

My colonoscopy wasn’t until 1pm, so all morning I was starving. Starting at 9am I couldn’t glass of watereven drink water, which sucked because I was thirsty feeling of course once you know you can’t drink any more water, and you can’t even like drink a bunch to trick your stomach into thinking it was kind of full by being full of liquids. No, you’re just stuck being miserable.

My husband, John, took me into check-in at noon, and after filling out all of the paperwork we had like 45 minutes to burn before I was taken back. My daughter, Maelle, was finishing up her last week of preschool so my husband, John, had to leave go pick her up, and then come back to the colonoscopy facility to get me because you aren’t allowed to drive home after your colonoscopy, after getting anesthesia, you have to have somebody drive you back home.

Once my name was called and I went to the back, I got hooked up to an IV, and then the doctor that was going to be doing the colonoscopy came in to talk to me about what symptoms I was experiencing. She explained how the procedure would go and said that she would take samples from inside my colon during the procedure and that she would probably find out that I maybe had Crohn’s or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was put under for the procedure, so once I went to sleep I don’t remember anything about it until I woke back up.

John brought Maelle with him to come pick me up because we didn’t think anything serious was going to be happening. Boy were we wrong!

As I woke up from the colonoscopy, John and the doctor were in the little curtained off area where my bed was. I asked where Maelle was and John said that the doctor didn’t want her in that area and that she was just sitting right outside the curtain in a chair playing on her tablet.

That was when she gave us the news that she had found a mass in my rectum and that she was almost positive that it was cancer. She said she put a rush on the biopsy results so we would find out ASAP exactly what it was. But the fact that she put a rush on it and just the seriousness in her voice made us realize that this was probably something that was going to be really bad.

We were in shock, but we tried not to go down that what-if road because we didn’t know what we were dealing with yet.

For me though, it was pretty much impossible for me to keep from going down that road. My first worry was about my daughter, who was 5 at the time, growing up without a mother. My next concern was we were in the middle of building a new house. Should we even continue with building the house? It was just in the early stages so we could still get out of it and not lose too much money. But, we wouldn’t need this new house if I wasn’t going to be around anymore. But there was still a chance (although very small)that it wasn’t cancer, so I tried to stuff those what-ifs down and not think about them.

Two days later I got a call from the doctor’s office saying that my biopsy results were in and I needed to make an appointment to come in and find out my results. They had an opening at 12:30 and at 4:30. It was Maelle’s last day of school that day and at 11:45 was End of Year Circle time where the teachers were going to read a story all the students would get a certificate, then they’d go outside and have a picnic lunch with all of the parents, and then have ice cream to finish off the final day.

I didn’t want to ruin Maelle’s end of year celebration and knew there was no way I could do that and the 12:30 appointment, so I chose the 4:30 one so we would have one final day of normalcy before we find out what exactly is going on inside me. I’m not much of a crier, but I had to try SO hard to not bust out in tears when my daughter got her end of year certificate. A million things were racing through my mind, first and foremost, am I ever going to see her finish another year of school.

That afternoon we took her over to a friend’s house so that John and I could hear the results on our own. We didn’t disclose any information to Maelle yet, because she is a curious girl and she was going to have a million questions and we would have zero answers yet for her.

At the office, the doctor was in a really upbeat mood when she was walking us back to the room and she was asking us how our day had been, so I thought that the news couldn’t be that serious since she was in such a good mood. Well, the conversation quickly took a dark turn and she confirmed that the biopsy results showed that the mass was indeed cancer, and because of the location of it, it was considered Rectal Cancer. Because Rectal and Colon cancers have many features in common they get lumped together under the name, Colorectal Cancer.

After learning the news we all cried, but then the doctor just jumped right into explaining what the next steps were going to be. A CT scan and a rectal EUS (also known as a rectal ultrasound) would be the next 2 tests that I would undergo to help with figuring out the staging of my cancer to see how serious it was. I was so grateful that she knew exactly where I needed to go to get these tests done and that she was doing what she could to get me in ASAP because I would have had NO idea where to start. And as a patient calling in, I’m sure I would not have gotten in as fast as she could get me in to get these tests done.

Unfortunately, the next day I was scheduled to fly back to Ohio for my sister’s bridal shower. But the doctor assured me that I would be fine to go have fun because she probably wasn’t going to get me in in the next 2 days anyway and then the following Monday was Memorial Day. So she said go have fun. This will be waiting for you still when you get back, it’s not going to advance that far in these couple of days that it’s going to make a difference in your treatment.

So I flew home to Ohio with the knowledge that I had cancer but had no idea how serious it was. My parents and sister knew that I had cancer, but the rest of the family did not so I decided to wait until after my sister’s bridal shower to tell anyone else so that she could have her happy day and her day to shine.

Life was already changing into a whirlwind of appointments. As I was waiting for my flight, the imaging office called to schedule my CT scan, which I scheduled for Tuesday, May 31 at 9am. The soonest that I could get in.

The next day, my sister took me out for my birthday to our favorite amusement park, Cedar PointJelena and her sister with the Blue Streak rollercoaster in the background. We had tons of fun at the park, all while I was trying to push down those thoughts that this could be the last time I ever ride these roller coasters. In the middle of the day, while we were waiting in line for the coaster Valravyn, the Oncologist’s office called to schedule me for my appointment with them which would be the following Thursday which would give enough time for the CT scan that I would take on Tuesday to get to the office so that we could discuss my treatment plan. Thankfully that was the only interruption to our day, which didn’t end until all the lines were closed down and they were shooing us out of the park.

Tune in to my next video to hear about all the diagnostic tests that I underwent to stage my cancer and also to prepare for treatment. If you like what you heard in this video, hit the like button over here, and be sure to subscribe to my page so that you’ll be notified when all of my new videos are posted. Thank you for watching!

*This video was originally published on October 23, 2019

*Link to My Cancer Symptoms post


My Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor!  Jelena here to tell you all about the symptoms that I experienced leading up to my Colorectal Cancer diagnosis. The symptoms that I experienced are definitely ones that are commonly experienced by others that are diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer but can also be symptoms of many other gastrointestinal issues.

If you start experiencing changes in your bowel habits, definitely check in with your doctor and keep pressing for answers until your symptoms subside. Some important things to keep track of for when you do talk to your doctor are:

    • When did the symptoms start?
    • Is there anything that you do that makes your symptoms better or worse?
    • What is the quality of the symptom or pain (like is it a dull or sharp pain, are you having blood in your stool, has your stool changed), those kinds of things.
    • If there is pain, does it start in one place and radiate to another?
    • How severe it is, and how long the symptoms last.

Colorectal Cancer is on the rise in young adults, so don’t let your doctor tell you that you’re too young to be checked. In fact, if you were born in 1990 or later you’re twice as likely to get colon cancer and 4 times as likely to rectal cancer as somebody who was born in 1950. I’ll have the link below in the description to the summary of the study. And within that summary, there’s a link to the initial publication of that study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Now to the details of what my symptoms were.

It all started in June 2015. The smell of my gas changed and it was much stronger and much more potent than it ever was before. By August 2015 I was tired of those smelly farts so I bought a probiotic at the natural foods store thinking that that might help. Well, shortly after I started taking the probiotic I experienced my first bout of rectal bleeding, and it usually would happen when I was passing gas. In fact, I had to be on the toilet to pass gas, otherwise, I would have to change my underwear. Yuck, I know. The blood was red, so it was fresh, and there was mucus in it. I stopped taking the probiotics because I thought that those were the root of the bleeding.

Jelena at a Christmas tree farm

I gave my system a little bit of time to reset and then 2 months later in October, I decided to try the probiotics again ’cause I was still having the smelly gas. Sure enough though, soon as I started them again, the bleeding started again. So I stopped them again for good. I thought I was just going to have to deal with really smelly gas forever.

I mentioned the gas and the bleeding when I went in for my annual physical in February 2016, but since it wasn’t actively happening at the time, at least not the bleeding part, my Nurse Practitioner just said to give the office a call back if it started happening again and sent me along on my way.

Well, nothing actually happened again until May 2016.

The bleeding started again when I would pass gas, and I started passing bloody mucous with my stools. I had never had any digestive issues in the past. I always had regular bowel movements, and I had a stomach of steel it was never bothered by anything I ate, which for the past 14 years had been a vegetarian diet.

I wasn’t taking the probiotics this time, and then I started having loose stools. So my symptoms were back, and more were adding into the mix. I called the doctor and made an appointment with the Nurse Practitioner again, and when I went in she put me on a gluten-free diet for a week and had me go down to the lab and give vials and vials

 of blood to see if I had any kind of food allergies or sensitivities that could be causing this bleeding and the loosening of my stools.

The gluten-free diet was pretty hard for me as a vegetarian because carbs were a huge part of my diet, but I managed for that week. After a week on that gluten-free diet, no change in symptoms, all the food allergy tests came back negative so they decided to send me in for a colonoscopy, to see what’s going on inside.

The colonoscopy was scheduled for May 23, 2016. Check out my next video, My Diagnosis, to find out what happened in that colonoscopy.

*This video was originally published on October 16, 2019

*Here is the link to the site I mentioned on the rise of Colorectal Cancer in young adults:



Smiling Jelena with curly purple hair

Get to Know Life as a Cancer Survivor!

Welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor.

Jelena sitting in a chemo chair with a purple blanket in her lap holding up 7 fingers
Jelena holding up 7 fingers for her 7th round of chemo

My name is Jelena and I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colorectal Cancer at age 34.

As someone with no family history of the disease and not knowing anybody else that had it, I felt pretty alone. I struggled to find information about what treatment actually would be like without being scared by the statistics of the grim side of cancer.

My hope is that this channel will be a helpful resource not only for those that are just starting their life as a cancer survivor but also to those that have been a part of the cancer world for a while. Join me as I talk about my journey from diagnosis to navigating life after treatment.

*This video was originally published on October 9, 2019