My name is Vanessa Ghigliotty and I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer when I was 27. I celebrate National Dress in Blue Day because I feel it is up to us as cancer survivors and caregivers to teach everyone what we already know: early detection saves lives! This is why we need to get our friends, families and colleagues involved in this and every Dress in Blue Day.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer right before my 28th birthday; my cancer was metastasized in my abdominal wall and lymph nodes. At the time of diagnosis, I was unable to walk and the tumor was beginning to protrude out of my right abdominal wall; I very foolishly thought it was either gas or a cyst on my ovary. I was constantly tired and weak, always having the chills (nightly fevers without realizing it at the time) and extreme pain on my right side, going to the bathroom once every two weeks and never hungry.
I remember finally being diagnosed in the emergency room after doctors ignored me. I remember being told I had to get my affairs in order as soon as possible and my new oncologist telling me if I wanted to live then we were going to fight. I didn’t realize at the time that my whole world would change and that every aspect of my life would get really bad before it got better. I remember being too sick to work, bill collectors calling non-stop, working with lawyers and social workers as my son decided who was going to raise him when I am gone and so many other issues.
It was hard and it was dark, but somewhere along the way you realize that you have a choice. You can choose to get chemotherapy, have surgeries and fight the cancer invading your body or you can die peacefully. Once I realized cancer had no power over me, I decided to be positive and all the darkness started to be replaced with light.
Now, at age 39, I am almost 11 years out from my initial diagnosis and I can say I have No Evidence of Disease (NED). I still have a lot of pain and complications from all the surgeries and damage to my body from the chemotherapy but it’s OK because I am alive. I give back, I’ve learned to appreciate my life and, most importantly, I’ve learned not to be ashamed that I was a young mother but to be happy that I was able to raise such an amazing young man!
I was lucky enough to find the Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA) through the American Cancer Society website and that’s when I feel my new life began – the life of giving back that I dreamed of while I was sick. As an active volunteer for the CCA, I advocate for legislation regarding colon cancer on a local and sometimes national level, participate in the My CCA Support Online Community and am a CCA Buddy, giving advice, help and encouragement to those in need. I’ve held leadership positions in the Voices Volunteer Program and am now the NYC CCA Ambassador, speaking as a survivor and teaching advocacy at cancer-related events. When I started volunteering for the CCA, what I never realized was how close I would get to the staff and my fellow volunteers and how so many of them would become like my family.
I’m proud to participate in Dress in Blue Day because it is one of the most exciting and fun ways for us to promote colon cancer awareness and how very important it is to get screened early! I always love how surprised people are when I say I was only 27 when I was diagnosed because the general public still thinks this is an older man’s disease. Colon cancer is the only cancer that is preventable if caught early. Screening saves so many lives and early detection saves you from so many complications that can develop from a late-stage diagnosis.
Vanessa Ghigliotty, 39
Stage IV survivor