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One Woman's Battle With Colon Cancer

Molly McMaster, diagnosed with the disease at 23, remains cancer-free at 27

FRIDAY, March 7, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Cancer was the furthest thing from Molly McMaster's mind when she started college at Colorado State. She joined the ice hockey team and spent the bulk of her time shooting goals, working out or coaching.

Soon, though, her dreams of playing on the U.S. Olympic Team were interrupted by nagging health problems. McMaster's doctor initially told her in July 1998 that the blood in her stool and her abdominal pain were "probably hemorrhoids," and that she should she come in for a check-up. When the pain disappeared the next day, McMaster canceled the appointment.

But then she began losing weight, her energy flagged and she was vomiting up everything she ate. "I couldn't have a glass of water without throwing up," she remembers. "I'm an athlete. All the time, I'm thinking, 'What's happening?'"

Her primary-care doctor told her she was constipated, she says.

Sometimes, the "constipation" got so bad she called her doctor four times in a week. Each time, she says, the response was the same: "I don't know why you're crying. You're just constipated."

The last straw was getting fired from her job teaching ice skating at a local rink. McMaster left college and Colorado and drove home to upstate New York.

McMaster pulled into her parents' driveway at about 11 p.m. on a Thursday night after having been on the road for four days. Her mother made her half a cup of soup. "I ate half and threw up all night long," she remembers.

The next morning, her parents carried her to the car and drove her to a nearby clinic. X-rays revealed a total blockage of the large intestine or colon, although no one knew yet what it was.

The following morning, a surgeon removed a tumor the size of his two fists along with 25 inches of large intestine. McMaster got the official diagnosis of cancer on Feb. 19, 1999. It was her 23rd birthday.

She was lucky. Her cancer was on the verge of being stage 3, which is when it has already passed into the lymph nodes, ready to spread throughout the body. "It had gone through the intestine wall but stopped short of the lymph nodes," McMaster says. "I was a few weeks away from stage 3."

Her primary care doctor had never asked about colon cancer in the family, never asked about screening. As it turns out, McMaster's mother had had polyps removed when she was 32, enough to give her children a family history. Since her operation, both McMaster's brother and mother have had polyps removed.

McMaster spent nine days in the hospital and then nine months undergoing chemotherapy. And her battle was successful.

Now she's a soldier working to raise awareness about colon cancer and, by her own admission, is "more active than before."

Less than a year after finishing chemo, McMaster rollerbladed from Glens Falls, N.Y. to Colorado to raise awareness of the disease, a trek that took 71 days.

A few months after that, she ran the New York City marathon, also to raise awareness. "It was a nightmare," she recalls. "I just hate running." She did finish the race.

On New Year's Eve 2001, McMaster carried the Olympic torch through her hometown.

Now, McMaster is involved in her biggest awareness-raising stunt yet: the colossal colon. Built with help from the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, this is a 40-foot-long, 4-foot-tall model of the human colon. When visitors crawl through the labrynthine structure, they learn about different colon diseases including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, polyps and colon cancer.

"I decided I have to do something completely out of this world crazy to raise awareness," McMaster says.

The colossal colon is on tour in March as part of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The beginning of the tour coincided happily with McMaster's 27th birthday, a day which also marked four years since her devastating diagnosis.

More information

You can learn more about Molly McMaster and the colossal colon at Rolling to Recovery.

SOURCE: Molly McMaster, colon cancer survivor
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