How I used humor in my fight against colorectal cancer: Jenny’s story

By Jenny McCann

In March 2013, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer at the age of 39.* I had no family history of cancer, no major risk factors and no other signs besides some blood in my stool. Thankfully, I went to my doctor right when my symptoms started. After a colonoscopy found the tumor, further testing revealed that cancer had spread through my rectum muscle layer and into two local lymph nodes. This meant I won the grand prize for treatment.

*I received this news while driving with work friends to Portillo’s. My friends were horrified and wanted to take me home. But if you’ve ever had Portillo’s in Chicago, you don’t pass up the opportunity, not even for cancer.Jenny McCann's son visiting her in the hospital as she battled colorectal cancer.

I started my first five weeks of treatment in April 2013. I would be connected to a portable chemo pump, which I wore in an over-the-shoulder bag, on Mondays and disconnected on Fridays. And Monday through Friday, I had 15 minutes of radiation. I was lucky that the type of chemo I received had relatively minor side effects. I experienced fatigue during my chemo weeks plus hair thinning, sensitivity to cold and menopause. (No complaints there!) I already had a pixie hair cut at the time so that made it easier to deal with the hair issues.

In July 2013, I underwent surgery to remove part of my rectum and received an ileostomy, since I couldn’t use my bowels during chemo. Once I was used to it, the ileostomy was super convenient. Here is my six-year-old son visiting me in the hospital (above).

Jenny McCann during a treatment session for colorectal cancer.From August to November 2013, I went through my second round of chemo. I would get an infusion every other Tuesday then go home hooked up for a continuous infusion until Thursday. Here is me at my first treatment session. Much to the distress of my mom, I went on a blind date four days after this photo (left).

The following summer, my ileostomy was reversed, and I was officially done with treatment. 2022 is my nine-year cancer-free anniversary, my son is now 15 and in July, I’m officially tying the knot with that blind date. Here we are celebrating my bonus son’s high school graduation this year (right).Jenny McCann attending her son's high school graduation after being treated for colorectal cancer.

So why am I telling you all of this? Colorectal cancer rates are rising for younger adults and as of May 2021, colorectal screenings are now recommended to begin at age 45. Many people put off screenings, often due to embarrassment or the uncomfortableness of a colonoscopy. In addition, many cancer screenings were delayed or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is it uncomfortable to talk about your bathroom habits? Sure, but humor is a great way to balance that out. And is a colonoscopy fun? Well, the prep is a bit of a pain, but the procedure itself is painless and an opportunity to take a very relaxing nap.

So, bring up butts at dinner tonight or next time you’re with family and friends. The more awareness that is out there, the more likely people will understand when to get screened or call a doctor AND feel more comfortable doing it.

READ MORE | You never forget your first time: getting a colonoscopy

For more information on colorectal cancer, signs, symptoms and screenings, visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s website.

Like Jenny’s t-shirt and want one of your own? Purchase a Too Young For This Sh*t t-shirt.