IOWA — By now, the thought of working from home is almost as normal going to an office. In fact, some prefer using their dining room as an office, unless you’re talking about Lauren Burt.
“So I just started back to work a couple weeks ago and will go back full-time next week and it is exciting to re-engage in life and work,” Burt said.
She couldn’t be happier, because she’s thankful just to be here.
“Tomorrow is promised to no one but when it’s you in that moment and you realize you are mortal and that every moment and every day count, you live differently,” Burt said.
Lauren’s never had an issue living life to the fullest. As an avid runner, participating in numerous marathons she valued her active lifestyle, until something caught up with her that she couldn’t outrun.
“Last summer I decided I needed to talk to my doctor and it was during a routine checkup and I thought I should say something and I did and she was incredible and right away ordered a colonoscopy which I’d never had before. I didn’t think at my age that was something that would be part of my healthcare plan and it led really quickly into tests and biopsies and led down the path to being diagnosed,” Burt said.
Diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 39
”From that moment of diagnosis your life forever changes. You suddenly think of your mortality, what does this mean? How much time? How bad is it?” Burt said.
Over 52,000 Americans will die from the disease this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
“It’s becoming more and more common, specifically in younger and younger patients,” Dr. Molly Gross with The Iowa Clinic said.
Doctor Gross diagnosed and treated Lauren’s cancer. Currently, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. In the next seven years, it’s expected the cancer rates will increase by 90% and will be the leading cause of cancer deaths for people ages 20-49, according to National Library of Medicine.
“The goal is always preventions and prevent cancer and that’s why we advocate for routine screening colonoscopies, because hopefully we can find these things when they’re polyps because it starts as a polyp and over time, up to ten years, to grow into a cancer. So, hopefully we can find these things as a polyp and be removed and treated without any surgery,” Dr. Gross said.
In Burt’s case, a polyp had already progressed to stage one cancer and was almost to stage two, which would have likely required radiation and chemotherapy.
“Surgery was the best course of action and I had two major surgeries. The first one was to basically remove most of my colon and rectum and to rebuild a whole new system internally; that was about a six to seven hour surgery and left that surgery with a colostomy bag and had to heal, spent about a week in the hospital. Pretty tough recovery, pretty painful. I was a former marathoner before this and the day after surgery and when I had to walk, I could barely walk about five steps,” Burt said.
After months of recovery, now ready to get back to the life she could have lost, a simple glass bowl filled with cards and notes from friends and complete strangers reminds her how important this journey as been.
“Short and to the point or long, it didn’t matter. It was a bright spot in some really dark moments. You never know when just a simple hand written note can truly change someone’s path and their day and how significant that can be,” Burt said.
On the surface, one might consider Lauren’s health scare very unlucky; she doesn’t see it that way.
“I feel incredibly lucky and this has changed my whole perspective on life. It’s hard to say in some moments but I think it’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because it makes me have more gratitude for the small things and it’s changed my perspective.”
She hopes her story will encourage others to pay attention to their bodies, any changes you may notice, especially bleeding and changes in the bathroom. Talk to your doctor about things you notice. Looking back, Burt said she noticed symptoms nearly a year before her diagnosis.