Swimming. Rock climbing. Trapeze flying. If it’s physical and fun, Christy is game. A self-described adrenaline junkie with an abiding athleticism and freakishly high pain threshold, Christy was active every day, until the day she found out she had cancer.
“It was a dead, screeching halt in my normal life,” Christy said. Now, two years later, she’s coming from a cross-fit class, stronger than ever.
Christy was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was 41 years old, which was remarkable for four reasons. First, she was young for the diagnosis. Second, she had a tumor that typically takes years to develop from a polyp. The early stages are asymptomatic, meaning she had carried this without knowing for years before her symptoms developed. She’s also Korean-American and colon cancer has a very low incidence in Koreans. Most of all, with a different doctor the MRI that revealed her tumor might never have happened.
When Christy was a toddler, she spent two days with a dislocated shoulder because she never cried, never alerted her parents to any pain. They noticed she wasn’t using her arm and took her to the doctor anyways, thus she was diagnosed and treated.
All of which is to say it was not unusual when Christy spent four months with intense stomach pain: 10 seconds, over and over, every day, for a third of a year. Again, it was her parents who took charge. “My mom was like, Christy, what on earth are you doing? Go to the doctor and find out what that is,” Christy remembered.
Not long after, she was diagnosed with an ulcer and prescribed an antibiotic, to which she had a violent reaction. This time, Christy took herself to immediate care. There, she learned that she didn’t have an ulcer, rather it was more likely she had gallstones. She was scheduled to see Christian Stevoff, MD, a gastroenterologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
An ultrasound confirmed the gallstones, while also revealing a hemangioma, a benign growth in her liver that looked normal. Still, Dr. Stevoff recommended that Christy get an MRI. He had noted fullness in her abdomen that was not explained by the ultrasound findings. An MRI would check the liver lesion, but it would also show whether the fullness was serious or not.
In the corner of the MRI scan, her doctors saw a mass by her colon. A second MRI revealed it to be a tumor. A biopsy would confirm she had colon cancer.