WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. (WKBN) - Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths and March is the month dedicated to spreading awareness about the disease. A West Middlesex mother is sharing her story, hoping to let others know it's never too early to get checked -- it could be the thing that saves your life.
"Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad. It's what happens in the middle that usually counts," Tara Johnson said.
The quote from the movie starring Sandra Bullock, "Hope Floats," is on a t-shirt Tara wears.
Her scary beginning was in November of 2018 when at just 42 years old, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.
"When you find yourself at the beginning, give hope a chance to float up," Tara said.
She's in the middle of her journey right now and is doing everything she can to make it count.
"It was discouraging for a couple of days and then I decided I was just going to take my experience. There's nothing you can do to change what didn't happen," she said.
At 40, Tara went to the doctor's to get a colonoscopy. Her mother died of colon cancer and Tara wanted to get tested herself.
She was told she was too young and insurance wouldn't cover it until age 50, so she left without getting screened.
"If I would've been more proactive that day in the doctor's office, I might not be here in this situation," she said. "Someone else can, hopefully, avoid having to be where I'm at right now."
Symptoms of colon cancer (Mayo Clinic):
- Change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Many with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease
Now, this mother of two is making it her life's mission to tell others to advocate for their health before it's too late.
"I'm just really grateful for the chance to fight it because there's a lot of people who, by the time they find it, they don't get that chance," Tara said.
She said the hardest part has been seeing her sons -- 7-year-old Sam and 10-year-old Emery -- watch her go through this.
"They lost some of their innocence through this because now they're scared their mom may die."
But they certainly aren't letting her fight cancer alone.
"Give her a lot of love now and then, and keep her not being lonely," Sam said.
"She's fighting strong. She's not giving up," Emery said.
So as much as her beginning was scary, Tara is staying focused on the middle.
"Making sure we do everything we can to get the message out and also to get better," she said.
And making hope float.
"Because not being there for them is really not an option," Tara said.
Tara has already been through six rounds of chemotherapy but is still working to let others know it could happen to them, too -- so don't wait to get screened.