Abbey Schnell never expected to wake up from an impromptu colonoscopy at the age of 25 to hear the words, “You have colorectal cancer.” Schnell admits there were warning signs that she dismissed. She thought they were side effects from just having had her second child, Remy. But weeks after Remy’s birth, Schnell had uncontrollable rectal bleeding and immediately rushed to the emergency room.
Two days later, a colonoscopy confirmed that Schnell had cancer. On October 30, 2012, she began chemotherapy, followed by radiation, at the Saint Elizabeth Cancer Institute. She remembers being so sick from all the treatments that she spent Thanksgiving in her mother’s bed. Family members took turns visiting her in the bedroom, as she didn’t have the strength to move.
Unfortunately, the cancer was caught too late. After two months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, surgeons removed 13 inches of her colon and rectum. Schnell now has a permanent colostomy. And things got worse before they got better. She also had to endure eight more rounds of chemotherapy that made her terribly sick. But she survived it all.
A Positive Spirit
Today, Schnell’s treatments are finished. She is still enduring the side effects from the treatments and surgery, but her strength is evident. Her positive attitude shines through all the physical and emotional pain she has endured.
Hilary Michaelson, RN, a cancer nurse navigator at the Saint Elizabeth Cancer Institute, helped guide Schnell through her diagnosis and treatment.
“Throughout everything, Abbey was so positive. She always had a smile on her face—no matter what we asked her to do,” said Michaelson.
“She has a great spirit about her,” Michaelson added. “Right before Christmas, she brought six wreaths into our Cancer Institute. She asked us to give them to families going through treatment who would appreciate them. She is always looking for ways to help others, even though she has been through so much.”
Enjoying Life and Promoting Awareness
Schnell now wakes up each morning happily greeting her sons, Urijah, who is three, and Remy, who celebrated his first birthday in October 2013. She wants to share her story to make others aware of colon cancer. Since she is only 26, her peers aren’t in the recommended screening age for colon cancer. But she reminds them to pay attention to their health.
“I want people to know their family medical history,” Schnell said. “It’s important to know the warning signs of colon cancer and pay attention to your body. If you think something is off, be adamant with your health care provider.”
“My colonoscopy saved my life.”
The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90 percent of all colorectal cancers are found in people who are 50 and older. If everyone that age had regular screenings, it’s estimated at least 60 percent of all deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided.
At age 74, William Wing went in for a routine colonoscopy and was shocked to learn that he had colon cancer. “I remember them telling me they found a tumor,” he said. “I don’t remember much after that.”
Wing’s colonoscopy was at 10:30 in the morning. By 3:30 that afternoon, he was in surgery at the Saint Elizabeth Cancer Institute to have the tumor removed.
“It is one of those things that you never think will happen to you. It sure knocks you for a loop when it does,” said Wing.
Treatment and Beyond
Following his surgery, Wing underwent chemotherapy treatments for six months. On December 2, 2013, Wing’s scans showed no signs of cancer. He felt such relief when his doctor said, “I will see you again in three years.”
After his experience, Wing encouraged all of his siblings and children to get screened. They listened and will have colonoscopies every five years. He also reminds his friends. “I’ll ask if they have had their colonoscopy,” he said. “If not, I tell them to get in there.”
While no one wants to endure cancer, Wing shares that the staff at Saint Elizabeth help to make the experience a lot better. “I’m glad I was there for the care I received,” he said.