Young Colon Cancer Patient Faces Devastating Diagnosis


Melisa Valenzuela was in her 20s when she learned that she had colorectal cancer. At the time, she didn’t have health insurance or a primary care physician. So, Valenzuela went to the store for over-the-counter remedies – none worked. She thought it was her IUD and had it removed. The pain persisted. “Brown like coffee” urine pushed her to go to the emergency room, where doctors said her intestines were inflamed and suggested it could be diverticulitis, an infection in the digestive tract. Months later, when doctors finally performed a colonoscopy, they found a cancerous tumor. Valenzuela wasn’t anywhere close to 45 years old – when regular colonoscopies are first recommended – and she didn’t have a family history of colon cancer. Her parents pushed her to go to City of Hope, where she met Dr. Andreas Kaiser. Her tumor was so extensive, Dr, Kaiser warned her that she could lose parts of multiple organs, including her colon, bladder and uterus. She might never be able to have children. Dr. Kaiser was joined by gynecologic oncology surgeon Dr. Ernest Han and urologic surgeon Dr. Kevin Chan. In the end, the surgeons were able to preserve her uterus, remove a cyst on her ovary while saving the organ, remove one fallopian tube, part of her colon and abdominal wall, and rebuild her bladder. The surgery did the trick and now Valenzuela has no evidence of disease. She is working toward a degree and continues to care for her grandmother with dementia.

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