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Diagnosed with colon cancer at 39, then doctors found something else | A survivor's story

Anne Heimel was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer. After more than 30 chemo treatments and surgery, she survived.

LEWISVILLE, N.C. — This month marks a special milestone for a Lewisville woman, still healthy five years after her Colorectal Cancer diagnosis.

The blue polish on Anne Heimel's nails is about more than expression. She does it to start a conversation during the month of March.

"People don't know that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month," Heimel said.

Blue is the color associated with Colorectal Cancer Awareness. She wears a lot of it, including her shirt that reads, "Survivor."

The Forsyth County woman was 39 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage Three Rectal Cancer. That's younger than when most people get their first screenings - now recommended at age 45 by federal health officials. 

She had no family history of the disease but had diarrhea and blood in her stool for months before her doctor started running tests.

"My mom had breast cancer twice and I was assuming I was going to get breast cancer," Heimel said. "That's what I was looking for in my life and to find out that it was rectal cancer just shocked me."

Heimel went through 28 chemoradiation treatments before doctors removed her rectum. Before the surgery, doctors also found she had the early stages of Ovarian Cancer. 

After the surgery, she had six more chemo sessions.

"Exhausting is probably the biggest word to describe it. Fatigue was a big side effect of chemo and radiation," Heimel said.

Eventually, she rang the bell on her last chemo treatment. Five years later, she's healthy.

RELATED: 6 colon cancer screening questions answered

"I honestly didn't think I would make it five years," Heimel said.

She uses her tie to spread awareness about the disease, tattooing a blue ribbon and the words "rectal cancer survivor" on her right arm. She also has a teal ribbon and the words "ovarian cancer survivor" on her left arm.

"I even had the tattoo artist ask me three times if I wanted to word rectal on my arm," Heimel said. "I want to normalize that word. I don't want it to be an icky word for people to think about or talk about."

An estimated 151,000 people will be diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer in 2022. About 52,000 people will die from it. The best way to protect yourself is to get a colonoscopy when you turn 45.

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