CLEVELAND (WJW) — Ann Ritchie is the epitome of strength. The Crossfit enthusiast can lift weights with ease but it does not compare to the weight she carries now.
“Terminal, yes I’m terminal,” said Ritchie of Munroe Falls. “But terminal does not mean I’m dying tomorrow.”
Diagnosed with stage IIIC colorectal cancer in 2016, Ritchie, now 60, was given just months to live. The busy mom admits she missed some of the warning signs.
“Back pain. And what they told me: That was actually the colon perforating, so there had to have been many symptoms before that,” said Ritchie.
Since then, Ritchie had several surgeries, including organ removal and 100 rounds of chemotherapy.
This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, she encourages others to get screened and to never ignore warning signs. The search for a second opinion after an initial diagnosis and treatment led Ritchie to the Cleveland Clinic.
“Even though she’s over age 50, she’s still younger,” said Dr. Alok Khorana, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program at the Cleveland Clinic. “The average person that gets this type of colorectal cancer used to be in their early 70s. Now the average age has dropped to mid-60s or so.”
Khorana is treating Ritchie. Ritchie said his expertise along with the rest of the care team at the Cleveland Clinic helped prolong her life.
“Especially in people with colorectal cancer, if you have disease that’s limited, and if you have disease that’s sensitive to chemotherapy, we can control the disease,” said Khorana. “We can treat, we can shrink it down for a while, we can get rid of it.”
Symptoms can include changes in bowel habits and blood in stool. Colorectal cancer is becoming more common in younger people.
“We’ve actually been successful in reducing colorectal cancer in people over age 50 because that’s where screening colonoscopy is widely used but paradoxically rates have risen in people under age 50,” said Khorana.
Khorana said doctors do not have a clear explanation as to why rates are increasing among people below the age of 50. He recommends anyone with a family history of the disease get screened early.
“If you have anyone in your family that had a polyp or a history of colorectal cancer, you really should start screening at age 40,” said Khorana. “If somebody got colon cancer in your family that’s a first-degree relative at age 42, you should be starting at age 32.”
Ritchie is focused on making the most of every day.
“You have to take one day at a time you have to make little goals,” she said.
Celebrating her milestone 60th birthday was one more goal accomplished.
“I just never thought I would make it to this, ever, so it was kind of a big one,” said Ritchie.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most-common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S., excluding skin cancers. It’s the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both women and men.