Most women will say that their twenties were some of the best years of their life. They’re young, carefree, and have their whole life ahead of them. At age 23, Jasmine Petross would have said the same. Her life was filled with fun-loving friends, supportive family, and plenty of opportunities for travel. In June of 2015, however, she began to feel run down. She began experiencing horrible abdominal pain, finding blood in her stool, and feeling utterly fatigued. She chalked it up to the stress and long hours at her job in a psychiatric hospital, until her symptoms worsened in January of 2016.
“I went to the doctor and was then sent to a gastro specialist,” Jasmine explained. “I just thought I would go in there and they would give me a pill and things would be better, I was wrong.”
Jasmine was told she would need a colonoscopy, but the issues still didn’t seem terribly urgent. She explained to the doctor that she and a friend had a cruise planned. Though Jasmine continued preparing for her Caribbean getaway, her mother encouraged her to go through with the procedure as soon as possible. Without much argument, Jasmine scheduled the procedure prior to the cruise and began getting ready for the colonoscopy.
“I had to drink a terrible prep,” Jasmine recalled. “I started it in the late afternoon and didn’t finish it until the five in the morning. My mom had to pressure me to drink it! After the procedure the doctor asked my mother and me if colon cancer runs in the family. We were speechless.”
The doctor continued to tell Jasmine and her mother that they found a mass the size of a peach and there was a 50% chance of it being cancer. The next week dragged by as Jasmine awaited the outcome of the biopsy. Finally, the phone rang, and Jasmine held her breath as she was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in March of 2016.
“I went through a lot the following three months,” Jasmine reflected. “I cried and screamed a lot and kept asking ‘Why me?’. I had a long talk with God one night and we got real close. I instantly put everything in his hands and left my worries to him. My faith kept me going.”
While Jasmine underwent chemotherapy and radiation for six weeks, she was also faced with many more challenges. She was told that the location of radiation would impact her ability to have children in the future, leaving her to decide whether or not to undergo another procedure to freeze her eggs. Jasmine was receiving daily shots in her stomach and had additional procedures on her ovaries and fallopian tubes to minimize risks, such as extremely early menopause.
“My big surgery to remove the tumor was in August,” Jasmine shared. “Soon after, I became ill with C-Diff. It was so painful and took weeks to get rid of. I lost 30 pounds. It was eating my body away. I passed out one night where my mom was able to catch me in the bathroom.”
Though it took some time to find the right medication, Jasmine was soon on the road to recovery. She slowly healed from C-Diff and was given an ileostomy bag on her stomach for nine months. The doctors decided to treat Jasmine with chemotherapy one last time to aggressively attack any remaining cancer cells. Of course, even life in remission wasn’t necessarily an easy road.
“The doctors said that my body would never be the same,” Jasmine expressed. “Sometimes I might not be able to hold my stools back. They stated that I would have to eat more fibrous food or take Imodium. Even dating was difficult because once people saw that I had a bag on, they either disappeared or made some type of excuse not to communicate anymore.”
Jasmine’s cancer diagnosis changed her life. While it changed it in many ways, such as impacting her ability to bear children, Jasmine continues to find the silver lining with a smile. Her experience with cancer helped her become more proactive in her health, in ways such as increasing the amount of exercise, switching to a pescatarian diet, and keeping up with regular screenings. She has also found the power of connection by sharing her story with others and is in the process of writing a book about her diagnosis. The greatest change, however, may be the attitude in which Jasmine embraces her life and her faith.
“Life after cancer has been amazing,” Jasmine smiled. “I don’t complain about anything anymore. My life is very precious, and I treat every day like it’s my last. I realized that suffering can help one to grow and mature.”
Thankfully, through early detection and modern treatment options, Jasmine is continuing to press on and live her life to the fullest. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is committed to its continued mission to change the lives of cancer patients like Jasmine by investing in high impact, high reward cancer research to enhance early detection, create better treatments options, and ultimately bring a cure to all cancer types.
NFCR-funded scientist, Dr. Wei Zhang has vast experience identifying biomarkers to improve colorectal cancer prognosis and predict treatment response. His team’s continued work may predict the outcome for stage IV colorectal cancer patients. NFCR is proud to support his innovative work.
Please consider supporting NFCR-funded scientists like Dr. Wei Zhang and their life-saving projects. Every day, with the support of our donors, we are one-step closer to a cancer-free world. To learn more or to make a donation visit www.NFCR.org.