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Colorectal cancer patient displaying her Moffitt trophy

By Jamie VandenAvond
Colorectal Cancer Patient

My journey started back in 2019 when I made a call to my doctor as I was having some unusual bowel symptoms. After an initial appointment, my doctor made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal. So, I also brushed it off. I had other things to worry about, like having another baby. We were told it would be nearly impossible to have another child, but in May 2020, I became pregnant!

Throughout the pregnancy, the symptoms in my bowels became more alarming. Something felt off. I decided to make another appointment with my doctor. I was met with the same aloof response, blaming the symptoms on my pregnancy. I fought for a referral to a gastrointestinal specialist. The specialist went through a round of tests and recommended a colonoscopy. I scheduled my colonoscopy for March of 2021 when my daughter was only 6 weeks old.


I hope that I can be an inspiration, a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear for others. I have learned so much in this journey.
Jamie VandenAvond

The first cancer moment I had was waking up after my colonoscopy. I saw my husband in the room and my heart sank. Since it was during the pandemic, he wasn’t supposed to be in the room. Once I was alert, they told us that they had found a mass. After meeting with a few more doctors, we were faced with the realization that I had stage 3 rectal cancer. It felt like the wind was taken out of me and everything went black for a moment.

It felt like the doctors were talking to someone else. Once I got over the initial shock, I told myself, "I will get through it because I have to get through it. I have two children that need me."

Halfway through my treatment, my husband and I decided that life is too short to wait to make a big move. We always dreamed of retiring somewhere warm, so we decided on Florida. As soon as I said Tampa to my oncologists in Wisconsin, they immediately started raving about Moffitt Cancer Center. I soon found out that they weren’t wrong. I finished the last four rounds of chemotherapy along with my ileostomy and removal surgery at Moffitt. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of doctors and nurses, including Dr. Julian Sanchez who performed my ileostomy removal surgery.

Many people ask me how cancer changed my life. It changed in many ways. Prior to my diagnosis, I was a "workaholic." My diagnosis taught me that some work can wait until tomorrow. I also tell myself to live life for today. If you want to go on vacation, do it. If you want to buy the $30 bottle of wine instead of the $15 bottle, do it. Does your kid want to spend the weekend at the beach? Go with them. Since my diagnosis, I have also learned that ridding your body of "emotional cancers" is important too. So, if there was a part of my life that was causing unnecessary stress, I got rid of it.

My biggest advice to people going through it is simply that cancer is a tough thing to deal with. You should cry, scream and just be plain mad about it. It's important to recognize these feelings and release them. Also, you know your body best. Always continue to fight and be an advocate for yourself.

Finally, I hope that I can be an inspiration, a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear for others. I have learned so much in this journey. I would love to share these lessons with others that may be going through this same struggle.

Moffitt offers support groups where you can talk with people who have experienced cancer. Please call the department of Social Work at 813-745-8407 or visit our Support Groups page to learn about the support groups that are available.