March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
About 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50, but people much younger can be affected.
Rachael Beacco from Negaunee was 23 years old and suffering from severe stomach pains. During months of doctors appointments and uncertainty, Beacco learned about a young woman battling colon cancer.
Rachael was working in the control room at TV6 and saw the story of Holly Nicholson , a 25 year old from Escanaba. Their symptoms matched.
"I never thought that anyone that young could get colon cancer," said Rachael.
Rachael found out in April 2012 that she would have to fight the same battle. Rachael was diagnosed with stage 3c colon cancer, but the cancer had not spread into other organs.
"It was actually kind of a relief in a weird way to actually know what it was," she said.
Colon cancer does not run in her family. A family history of the disease is typical when a young person is diagnosed with it. People 20 to 49 years old are 15 times less likely to get colon cancer than people 50 and older.
"That's sort of the general population and most patients that we think about when it comes to colon cancer," said Dr. Marcin Szember, a digestive and liver specialist from Marquette General Hospital.
Rachael, a lover of art and dogs, started her fight with 25 treatments of chemo-radiation over five weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Her sister, Elissa, said Rachael kept her family positive through the entire fight.
"She is incredibly strong," said Elissa. "Not only the strongest 24 year old I know, but the strongest person I know."
Rachael and her family were not fighting alone. The local community rallied behind them by raising money through a race, T-shirt sales and a benefit dinner. Rachael recalled that dinner, a packed house at the Negaunee Knights of Columbus.
"It was very surreal," she said. "It was a little overwhelming, but it was just amazing to see all those people there."
Rachael underwent a laparoscopic robotic surgery at the end of the summer at Mayo and received ten more doses of chemotherapy at MGH. Those finished last month, completing her treatment plan. Rachael had appointments with doctors at Mayo this week, hoping to hear her cancer was gone.
"Bloodwork, a CT Scan, and an x-ray to check for any tumor growth," she said.
Rachael found out on Thursday that her scans were all clear, and her colon cancer is gone. She will continue to get follow-up examinations and hopes to use her art skills in some way to help other people affected by the disease.
She also encouraged people at risk for the disease to get a colonoscopy.
"Just get checked because it's better to be proactive and catch it sooner than later," she said.
Those words are echoed by Dr. Szember, who said that many people who should be screened for colon cancer are not following through. People are often surprised after they have their first exam.
"Very often they'll say, it's often the prep, the day before, that was worse than the actual colonoscopy. The actual procedure was a breeze to them," Dr. Szember said.
For more information on colon cancer and who should get screened, visit the Centers for Disease Control web site: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/facts.htm