It’s scary to hear the “c” word, especially when you’re only 36. A million questions ran through Gabriel Leblanc’s mind, but only one seemed to matter.
“How was I going to get through this?” Gabriel said.
In 2019, Gabriel began experiencing debilitating health problems. He had difficulty breathing, and simple exercises like walking up the stairs left him winded. He continued bringing his health concerns to his doctors, but they dismissed it as being related to his asthma.
Fast forward two years later and Gabriel was in the hospital receiving blood transfusions, scheduled for an emergency colonoscopy, and with anemia and hemoglobin so low the doctors thought he should be dead.
“My wife always mentions this because it was the day of her birthday when I ended up in the hospital. I don’t think either of us expected that outcome,” Gabriel said.
The results were life-changing for Gabriel. Over 100 polyps were found in his colon, and he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.
“I opted for a total colectomy surgery and was fortunate enough to avoid an ostomy,” Gabriel said. “I thought the worst was over, but I had no idea what was to come.”
The After Effects of Surgery & Finding the Alliance
After surgery, Gabriel was using the bathroom 40 or more times per day. He was second-guessing his surgery choice and contemplating getting an ostomy instead.
“That’s when the Alliance came into the picture,” Gabriel said. “I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff about to fall over when Stephanie, a patient navigator, helped to calm me down. She pointed me toward life-altering resources that gave me hope that things wouldn’t always be this way.”
Things happened so quickly for Gabriel that he wasn’t sure how to access help before he stumbled upon the Alliance.
“I’d researched and looked into other colon cancer groups, but none of them seemed as supportive or as helpful as the Alliance,” Gabriel said. “For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt like someone was really listening.”
Gabriel got tips about medications that would help with some of his symptoms, how to slow down digestion, and how to stay hydrated. Additionally, his patient navigator turned him on to the Alliance’s Facebook group, Blue Hope Nation.
“The Facebook group moderators are really great,” Gabriel said. “You get fantastic advice, especially when you don’t understand what is happening to your body or the kind of surgery you need. Every time I asked a question, I was met by a supportive community who would answer me back. It really helped me get through some of the most difficult side effects, such as neuropathy, from chemo.”
Learning To Be Vulnerable
Like so many cancer patients, Gabriel began learning how to open himself up and be vulnerable to assist him in his healing process.
“We are raised as men to be tough, but you have to have moments of vulnerability, as well,” Gabriel said. “Men have spent too much time battling things alone. It’s time to change that narrative and be stronger together.”
Gabriel had only been married for a year when his health issues began, but he found that through this process, he and his wife were able to become closer than they could have ever imagined.
“Honestly, we cried a lot throughout chemo and the whole diagnosis,” Gabriel said. “But it brought us closer together. It was us against the world, and she has been my rock through all of this.”
Gabriel attributes a lot of his strength to the people and resources he received after his diagnosis that offered him support during his darkest moments.
“With the help of my wife and the Alliance resources, I was able to get through the most difficult time in the first couple of months when I felt so vulnerable,” Gabriel said. “It's okay to have help when you need it. I’m always amazed at how strong you are when you have to be. You can gain amazing strength from the people around you, so you need to make sure you have the right kind of people that are supporting you.”
From Stage III to NED: Words to the Newly Diagnosed
Gabriel now calls himself a survivor and has an important message to share with others regarding his cancer diagnosis.
“If I can inspire one person to not feel alone by sharing my story, I’ll know that I’ve done good in this world,” Gabriel said.
With help from the Alliance, Gabriel got through some of the toughest times in his life.
“The Alliance showed up to provide invaluable resources that prevented me from getting an ostomy. I’m so glad I found the Alliance, as they changed my life for the better. I would recommend them to anyone else going through a similar diagnosis,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel is now back to work full-time and wants people to know that things do get better.
“It’s important not to give up in the first couple of months after surgery,” Gabriel said. “It’s going to take time for your body to heal and get accustomed to your new reality. Go easy on yourself.”
Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer and Screening
Young-onset colorectal cancer is becoming increasingly common – rising by 2% each year. Gabriel urges people to listen to their bodies and take their health seriously, no matter their age.
“Because I was so young, doctors didn’t think that cancer was something they needed to think about, and it’s probably why my symptoms went overlooked for so long,” Gabriel said. “It’s important to know that cancer strikes people at different ages. Before I joined the Alliance, I didn’t know there were so many young people getting diagnosed. I think everyone should get a colonoscopy before the age of 40.”
While screening isn’t typically recommended before age 45, it’s important to know the symptoms of CRC and your family history, as you may need to get checked sooner. Use the Alliance’s free screening tool to find out how and when to get screened.
Don Shippey was 55 years old in 2016 when he decided he’d been putting off his colonoscopy long enough.
Though facing a colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnosis isn’t easy, Chris continues to show up with grace and courage as he moves through his journey to wellness.
When Janice Johnson started experiencing sudden GI symptoms at the age of 48, a cancer diagnosis was the last thing she expected. In fact, it was difficult for her to even get a colonoscopy in the first place, being that the recommended screening age was 50 at the time (2016).