24-year-old battling colon cancer says he missed signs; doctors urge you to be aware

Updated: Aug. 31, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Colon cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, yet doctors say many don’t even know they have it because the signs and symptoms get missed.

The balloons floating in 24-year-old Michael Herpin’s room have a simple message: get well soon. It’s a message that has helped guide him through a cancer fight he never expected to be in.

“It’s not something we foresaw at all whatsoever,” Herpin said. “We thought it was just Crohn’s, hemorrhoids, just irritable bowel syndrome, but never ever crossed my mind it could be cancer.”

It was though. He had missed all the signs, chalking his discomfort and bloody stool up to hemorrhoids.

It’s a common mistake Dr. Kelly Finan says can lead to serious consequences.

“Someone might have some constipation and some bleeding and very frequently will say, ’Oh, I have hemorrhoids.’ Well if you don’t really have diagnosed and confirmed hemorrhoids, definitely go and get that checked out,” said Dr. Finan, a colorectal surgeon with the Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center.

Dr. Finan says it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your body, but to look out specifically for certain symptoms that are common with colon cancer.

“Usually it’s a change in bowel function, might be worsened constipation or diarrhea, a change in the caliber of your stools, unexplained abdominal or back pains, unexplained weight loss, blood in your stool,” she said.

The American Cancer Society recommends everyone start getting screened at age 45. Previously, it was suggested to start getting colonoscopies when you turn 50, but Dr. Finan says more people are starting to be diagnosed in their 40s.

“If we can catch it early, we have a much higher rate of cure and often cures with surgery alone for the early stage cancers and some of the later cancers we also have to add some chemotherapy or with rectal cancers, radiation therapy,” she said.

While Herpin did not catch his cancer early, he’s nearly done with his fight. He has one more procedure, then he will be cancer-free.

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