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Interview with Gina Neri

MM: What a year you have had. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and share your story. When and how were you first diagnosed?

GN: I was diagnosed with colon cancer a year ago – just days after learning I was pregnant with my third child. I first went to the doctor because I was not feeling well and had blood when I went to the bathroom. We thought it was hemorrhoids and never imagined it would be colon cancer. I was young (39), had no genetic markers and there was no family history.

MM: Do you remember your first thoughts when the doctor said it was colon cancer?

GN: It hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt like I was in a movie…my life flashed before my eyes. I was overwhelmed. I was devastated. It was so emotional. Not only did I have colon cancer, I was pregnant and I wanted my baby more than anything. All my decisions needed to be for the both of us.

MM: What did you do next?

GN: It was so hard finding a doctor that would help me – I was pregnant and I could not find a doctor that would perform a colonoscopy, let alone surgery and chemotherapy. I did a ton of research but unfortunately there was not a lot of documentation on colon cancer and pregnancy.
At first I spent a lot of time on the internet …next I started reading medical journals and then I began cold calling doctors. Not many would talk to me without my medical records and the ones that would speak with me told me that I should terminate my pregnancy – that it was impossible to keep my baby. Until I found Dr. Thomas Weber and Dr. Sarina DiStefano who supported my decision not to terminate my pregnancy and gave me hope that I could keep my baby and save my life.

Hope for Two, a cancer registry for pregnant women, was amazing. They study the long term effects of chemotherapy on mother and child and also introduce patients to others that are in the same situation. I was able to connect with a number of women that were in my situation. Talking to them really helped and I realized that if they could have colon cancer and be pregnant …so could I.

MM: Now what?

GN: I am passionate about having an impact in the fight against colon cancer. My goals include: (i) Spreading awareness about colon cancer and encouraging people to get screened no matter what their age; (ii) advocating to Congress to lower the age of colon cancer screening and testing, and; (iii) helping any woman who is pregnant with colon cancer.

MM: Any advice you would give to someone newly diagnosed or currently battling colon cancer or another colorectal cancer disease or syndrome?

GN: Do your own research, get more than one opinion, obtain your medical records and find people who are in your situation to connect with. Most importantly remember what you decide to do is a personal decision.

MM: Anything you would like to add?

GN: I feel blessed that I have a healthy and happy baby girl and that I am currently cancer free. Hopefully I will stay that way in the future. I am not 100 percent but this is my new normal. I want to make a difference and as younger and younger people are getting cancer, more and more woman will be in my position of being pregnant when they are diagnosed. That it why it is so important that there is more research done in this area. I will work tirelessly to spread the word that colon cancer is preventable and the importance of listening to your body and early detection/screening.

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