BOISE -- Friday marks the start of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and one Nampa patient is sharing her story in hopes of helping others.
"I thought before I got this that it was a disease for old people, and I'm sort of proof that if I can get it, anyone can get colon cancer," Lara Ames, who was diagnosed at 35 years old, said.
Colon cancer is one of the deadliest kinds of cancer, but oncologists say one of the most preventable and treatable if detected.
Colorectal cancer generally affects those 50 and older, but Ames says she's proof it can happen younger. She just began a second round of chemo last week.
After a backache and several doctors trying to figure out what was going on, Ames was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer last year.
"I was diagnosed at 35. I am healthy. I try to eat right. I exercise almost every day. I was training for a 10 K at the time," Ames explained.
Ames says she'd actually had the cancer for ten years, but it was completely undetected. By the time doctors caught it, it had spread to her lymph nodes and liver.
"When it's spread that far, it is very difficult to cure. Lara is really in for the fight of her life," her oncologist, Dr. Dan Zuckerman of St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute said.
Zuckerman says while it's rare for someone Ames' age, cancer in the colon, or large intestine, is a dangerous and common killer in Idaho.
"It's actually the second leading cause of death in Idaho, just behind lung cancer," Zuckerman said. "So actually even though we hear a lot more about breast cancer or prostate cancer perhaps than colon, colon cancer is actually the second leading cause of death in this state."
The reason for the high rate, Zuckerman says, is Idahoans often skip out on screening, meaning colonoscopies.
"A doctor, a gastroenterologist would use a scope to go up and use a camera and look at the whole length of the colon. If he or she finds any polyps, they can be removed at that time, and that's literally how lives are saved," Zuckerman said.
While Ames wouldn't have been in the typical age bracket for a colonoscopy, her family history could have pointed doctors in that direction earlier, if she'd known about it.
"Before I was diagnosed, I didn't know there was a family history. Really no one talks about it. It's kind of an embarrassing thing to talk about. It's kind of stigmatized," Ames said. "The older generation in my family who has had colon cancer didn't share it, and when I got diagnosed, people started coming out of the woodwork and letting me know that other people in the family have had it."
Zuckerman and Ames both say while colon cancer isn't pleasant to talk about and colonoscopies can sound strange or scary, it's important to get checked.
"Colonoscopies are uncomfortable for a little while, but the risk of getting colon cancer and the treatment is far worse," Ames said.
Zuckerman says colonoscopies are generally recommended for anyone 50 or older, but those with family history may need to start earlier. He advises checking with your primary care doctor.
For St. Luke's MSTI free colon cancer screening test kit information, click here.