Young B.C. mom advocates for routine colonoscopies after terminal cancer diagnosis
A 40-year-old woman in Saanich, B.C., who recently had to tell her kids she’s dying, is raising awareness about colon cancer in young people from the hospital room she might never leave.
“I’m not giving up, but it’s not looking good,” says Jordan Millar. “The latest prognosis is that I’m going to die in days to weeks.”
The single mother started experiencing colorectal cancer symptoms – an irritated bowel and blood in her stool – in her 20s. But she says she wasn’t given the colonoscopy that diagnosed her cancer until she was 39 years old.
She says that’s partly because she’s young. Doctors repeatedly told her colonoscopies start at the age of 50.
“I think that this should become like a regular preventative Pap smear,” she says.
Her family thinks one screening much sooner could’ve spared them a lot of trauma.
“[I’m] devastated, frustrated, angry,” says Millar’s sister, Devon Greenway. “This could’ve all been prevented.”
A supportive group for young adults with cancer says the complaint is one it’s heard many times before. The executive director of Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) says survivors wishing they had an earlier diagnosis is a top complaint.
“The health system isn’t particularly looking at us to be the ones with cancer experiences,” says Geoff Eaton.
In B.C., the most recent statistics for colorectal cancer are from 2018, using data from the BC Cancer Registry. It shows a total of 2,945 new cases diagnosed. Of them, 85 were in Millar’s category of people aged 20 to 39, and 40 of those were women.
YACC says it emphasizes the need for young people to advocate for themselves when they have a feeling something is wrong.
Millar says she’s angry her cancer was missed for so long.
“Nobody checked anything. They just assumed and said, ‘Oh, it’s hemorrhoids, you’re fine.’”
Now she’s urging people to avoid letting a doctor brush off any symptoms because of their age or sex. She says the best way to get the full picture is through a colonoscopy.
“Please do a rectal exam, even if it’s embarrassing,” she says.
Millar has already witnessed the devastating effects of cancer. Her son was successfully treated for leukemia. Now the boy and his sister are visiting their mom in hospital and have been granted access to sleep over at the hospital.
An online fundraiser is raising money for the family to help with any potential treatment options for the mother and to support her kids.
Millar is battling an infection in her liver and says if she can get it under control, doctors have told her there’s a “miniscule” chance she could get chemotherapy. She says she feels like she’s begging for her life.