Justin Lloyd, diagnosed at 18

A few days after Christmas 2012, at age 18, I started to experience some mild stomach cramps. At first I figured it was a digestive problem. However, as the week went on the cramps worsened to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night.

Three nights in a row I was unable to fall asleep due to the intensity of the cramps. I remember going downstairs at three in the morning to make myself vomit (I didn’t want to wake my family) in hopes that it would make the pain go away. Unfortunately, it did not work. After three straight nights by the toilet vomiting and wheezing in pain, I finally decided to go to my pediatrician.

My pediatrician gave me all the normal tests, which I passed without a problem, but he admitted me to the Emergency Room anyway to make sure everything was alright.

At the Emergency Room they hooked me up to an IV so I could get proper fluids while giving my stomach a break. During this time they ran several tests: EKG, stool test, etc. They also wanted to do a CAT scan but I declined. All the original tests they performed came back negative so I did not think it was necessary.

I was 18 years old and otherwise healthy so I really didn’t think my stomach cramps were anything serious, especially not anything as serious as cancer.

Besides, the IV fluids the doctors were giving me at the time were making me feel better so my symptoms were diagnosed as a bad stomach bug and I went home.

No one ever mentioned cancer as a possibility. Thinking back on it, declining a CAT scan is probably one of my biggest regrets because it would have diagnosed me earlier.

Oddly enough, after that trip to the hospital my cramps seemed to disappear. I went back to school the next day with no problems. Three weeks into the new trimester, the cramps came back—this time a lot worse. I spent an entire day missing class and vomiting. That night I tried to go to bed and just couldn’t fall asleep so my roommate finally urged me to go to the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital they tried several meds to ease the pain. Nothing worked. They had to resort to Morphine to finally stabilize me enough to be able to drink some vanilla extract that would help during the CAT scan.

After the CAT scan, they told me I had serious inflammation in my bowel and that I probably had Crohn’s disease. But to be sure they had me take a colonoscopy a few days later. After the colonoscopy the surgeon diagnosed what he saw as Crohn’s. He said it was hard to tell exactly what it was because my bowel was severely swollen, but that he was pretty sure it was Crohn’s. Only the biopsy report would confirm exactly what it was.

Unfortunately, the report would take about a week to come back. In the meantime, I returned to school until my parents called me on February 6th and told me that they had to take me home because we were going to a hospital in Boston.

“A simple trip to the doctor can provide peace of mind, and being proactive means whatever treatment you need will likely be less intense.”

Before they took me to the hospital in Boston my parents told me that the biopsy test revealed that I had a tumor in my Ileocecal Valve (where the large intestine connects to the small), but I was not to worry. They had called numerous doctors who told my parents it had to be a mistake. To have a tumor in this part of my stomach would be extremely, extremely rare. It has only ever been found in a few adults and I was only 18.

I waited for about an hour at the hospital while the doctors looked at the biopsy. When they came back I saw a surgeon with them and knew I was in trouble. It was indeed a tumor and I would need emergency surgery to have it removed. At age 18, I was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma.

A week later, on February 14th, I underwent a right colectomy. The tumor was removed but the cancer had spread to my stomach cavity. I needed six months of chemotherapy after I recovered from surgery. It would turn out to be the hardest mental and physical challenge I would ever have to face.

If you are experiencing a persistent change in your health, get it checked out. A trip to the doctor’s office can be a pain, but it is worth that hour or two out of your day to make sure you are okay. For any health problem, not just cancer, the longer you wait the worse the prognosis will be. A simple trip to the doctor can provide peace of mind, and being proactive means whatever treatment you need will likely be less intense.

Symptoms

  • mild stomach pains
  • vomiting