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On Aug. 23, 2021, my daughter, Shundra Seay Massey, posted for the last time, “At the age of 29, I never would’ve thought that I would be diagnosed with colon cancer.” Approximately two months after her diagnosis, my daughter passed away. Her son was only 22 months old.

Shundra’s Instagram account, BrownMommyDiary, radiated positivity. Her brilliant style, adorable son, and doting husband took center stage in most of her photos. In the captions, she selflessly shared experiences with others, urging her followers to live healthy and fulfilling lives, just as she had.

A Delayed Diagnosis and More

Young-onset colon cancer patients are often diagnosed with more advanced cancer, which is more difficult to treat and younger patients, especially women, are more likely to have their concerns dismissed by their doctors.

This was Shundra’s experience — an experience that started with back pain that remained uninvestigated, even when blood tests showed abnormal results. It ended with a devastating colon cancer diagnosis that would take my daughter’s life approximately two months later.

Unfortunately, cases of young-onset colon cancer, affecting patients under the age of 50, are increasing by 1.5% each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The numbers are increasing for younger people, and we are just standing idly by. It is so unfair it almost seems criminal, especially since colon cancer is the second-deadliest cancer in the U.S. and the most treatable cancer if detected early.

Disparities Affect the African American Community

To make matters worse, colon cancer disproportionately affects African Americans, as we are 20% more likely to get colon cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it. That is more than any other racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., according to the ACS. The reasons behind the disparities are numerous and include tumor characteristics and comorbidities. But they also include treatment delays, even when patients have similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

With the recent passings of Chadwick Boseman, the talented actor best known for portraying Black Panther, who succumbed at the age of 43, and Quentin Oliver Lee, Broadway actor, who passed away at the age of 34 to colon cancer, it is imperative that we highlight this issue and focus on efforts to solve disparities to prevent more in our communities.

I am committed to educating others about prevention and urging earlier colon cancer screenings to prevent diagnosis and treatment. I am also encouraged by The American Cancer Society and historically Black colleges and universities’ (HBCUs) focus to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the cancer research field.

I believe we can make a huge difference if the age for Colonoscopy Screenings is changed for average-risk people to 25 years of age, and for first-degree relatives of Colorectal Cancer (CRC) to 30 years or 20 years before the age of diagnosis of the youngest relative diagnosed with CRC, in the medical and insurance communities.

Lost, But Not in Vain

After Shundra’s death, I researched colon cancer in earnest and learned about the increasing rate of young-onset CRC. Yale Medical doctors warn that people as young as 20 need to be aware of the warning signs. Nobody in their 20s, 30s, or 40s gets colorectal cancer, right? Wrong. The truth is that colorectal cancer is on the rise in young adults and has been for years. That’s why Yale Medicine surgeons who treat it are urging people younger than 45 – even college students to talk to their doctors about any suspicious symptoms, such as constipation, rectal bleeding, or sudden change in bowel movements.

I am believing, hoping, and fighting for change.

Today, my daughter’s Instagram account remains active, with faithful updates and pleas for earlier colon cancer screenings, awareness and education. I hope young African American adults get screened so their families do not ever experience our heartbreak.

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1 Comment

  1. Rosina Seay this is very enlightening and your research is very informative.
    Thank you for sharing your daughter (my niece) story with hope and prayer to save another life.

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