ASHLAND – In 2020, the Colon Cancer Coalition revealed that there would be about 18,000 cases of colon cancer diagnosed in people under 50, the equivalent of 49 new cases per day. It is the third leading cause of cancer death in young adults, with one in five colon cancer patients between 20 and 54 years old.
When 35 year old Brittani Hunt found out she had stage 3 colon cancer on February 12, she and her husband were as shocked as they were devastated.
For four years, Hunt experienced rectal bleeding during every bowel movement. With every doctor she visited she received a different diagnosis. At first, she was told she had internal hemorrhoids, and then irritable bowel syndrome. The idea of having colon cancer never crossed her mind, nor was it brought up to her.
“It was downplayed,” Hunt said. “I think the mental game in my head was, ‘this just can't be cancer if [my doctor’s] not taking it seriously.’”
After her last pregnancy in 2019, Hunt’s symptoms flared up and she experienced rectal bleeding. Her excruciating pain reached an all-time high in January of this year. She couldn’t eat because of the pain it would cause nor could she have a bowel movement. As co-owner and scheduler for Ashland Drain and Plumbing, she found herself running her business from the bathroom.
“That's when I just finally hit my knees in the doctor's office and begged and cried and said, ‘Please help me, please do another colonoscopy, I'm running my company from the toilet and this is not normal,’” Hunt said.
“I don't think I was under for very long in that colonoscopy,” she continued. “[My doctor] pulled the scope right out, and he shook me at the bedside and he said, ‘Britt, you have cancer, and you're not going home. And that was it, and life changed in a moment.”
Although there is some cancer in her family history, Hunt is the only one to experience rectal cancer, adding to her utter shock at the reveal of her diagnosis.
“I don’t know if I've even come to terms with [having cancer] yet because I just can't, for my age and my health, I can't fathom this,” Hunt said.
Having always suspected that there was something wrong with her that the doctors she went to could not see, Hunt has moments of anger, bitterness and resentment for not being taken seriously sooner. She no longer sees the doctor who diagnosed her and disregarded her concerns in the past.
In the years since she started experiencing symptoms, Hunt changed her diet, cutting out sugar and grease. Her new doctor said that had she not trusted what her body was telling her, she could’ve been at stage 4.
“I was angry, disappointed, frustrated—just devastated,” she said. “I felt like I had been shouting this for a solid year to numerous doctors, and nobody heard me… I just felt like I slipped through the cracks.”
Hunt’s tumor slowly grew inside her for three years and is now six centimeters long, causing her to face blockage issues. Colon cancer is not an aggressive cancer, but because Hunt wasn’t diagnosed or treated in time, she might have to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.
“I've been connected with many people now in the last few months that were in my shoes, and they're either still going through it or they're surviving it... But none of them have a colostomy,” Hunt said. “And I am more angry that my body is mutated now because these doctors didn't listen to me. My insides are now on my outsides.”
As a wife and mother of four, Hunt said it’s been hard to deal with things that used to be easy for her, such as going to sporting events with her children and conducting her business. It’s also been a financial burden on her to buy all of the supplies she needs to keep up with her treatment.
While going through 28 radiation treatments for five days a week, Hunt’s was on a pill form of chemotherapy as well. Currently, she has infusions every other Wednesday. Though she’s exhausted at times, she’s still trying to remain positive and keep her spirits lifted.
“I just have to ride this, as it comes, and it's weird how it comes in waves. I'll have a good hour and then I'll have a bad hour. Or I'll have a good half of the day and then I'll be completely down at night,” Hunt said.
Hunt’s husband, Cody, knew she spent way more time in the bathroom than normal and how much she was hurting. However, they both continued to trust Hunt’s former doctor and believe that it was nothing serious or life-threatening. In emailed responses, he talked about his shock and disbelief.
“I watched my wife do everything for everyone all these years with honestly little complaint—because that's who she is—and I never was able to even think of a diagnosis like cancer,” he wrote. “I went to my knees to God and continue to lean on his word. I'm praying for a miracle. We all are.”
As a man who fixes things for a living, knowing he can’t help his wife from a medical standpoint has been hard for him. However, the strength and positivity they receive from family members, friends and loyal customers have helped them cope in these difficult times.
“Our community has rallied behind us like an army and built my family up so high,” Cody wrote. “I could never imagine the love we have been shown through this. The meals, the cards, the benefits that turned into pep rallies have made us feel like we are all fighting for Brittani. Everyone is taking an ounce of pain away from her with their support, and I know it's got to heal her.”
Hunt has a 40 percent, five-year survival rate, and while as scary as those numbers might be, she’s working hard to ensure she won’t become a statistic.
Throughout her entire experience as a cancer patient, she’s learned her strength as a human being and wants to influence people—old and young alike—to go out and schedule colonoscopies. She keeps people up to date with her journey through her YouTube channel.
“If I can save one person through this, this is worth it… It is my duty to find the purpose in this, and if that purpose is to just shout it from the rooftops and try to save another young mom or another young dad or anyone young, that's what I want to do,” Hunt said.
In the Fall, Hunt plans to have her tumor removed through total neoadjuvant treatment. Her case was brought in front of a tumor board at the cancer facility she attends who determined the best route for handling her cancer. During that time, they will also try to reconnect her colostomy and reattach her colon inside her body if there is enough room after the tumor removal.
Now that she’s been put on the right plan and found doctors and a hospital who take everything she says seriously, Hunt’s voice is finally being heard.
“They're just so caring and [my doctor’s] truly working every day to tailor my treatment plan so that... I can bear through this without being tortured all summer long,” Hunt said. “I mean I know it's not easy, but he is doing everything he can to keep me comfortable and I could not ask for a better doctor.”
With a strong team of people behind her, Hunt has more hope and determination to beat the odds stacked against her.
“I'm very much like a goal person, so I have set the goal,” Hunt said. “About this time next year, I should be put back together, if it is God's will to have me put back together.”