Anyone who ever met Courtney as she was growing up knew that she was going places.  Even as a small child she would take charge -- at home, on vacations wherever Courtney was, she had it covered.  She was mature for her years and exceptionally well grounded. She was the second of four children of Chuck and Mary Diacont.  They were the perfect family with a lifestyle and closeness to be envied.

Courtney loved sports, especially volleyball, and family activities such as skiing, biking and fishing trips to Canada.  Courtney was an avid student of flying and was taking lessons with the goal of getting her private pilot’s license.  At Nazareth High School she was a member of the volleyball team. 

But, Courtney’s promise was not to be realized thanks to an insidious intruder that no one expected and no one recognized. Courtney’s initial symptom was that she would occasionally faint when she would stand in one place for a while ---usually in church. When else does a teenager stand still for any length of time? 

Looking back her mother believes she had been ill for at least ten months before physicians began to take the fainting spells seriously.

 After the first fainting episode, she was taken to various specialists but none recommended a gastroenterologist.  Her symptoms were simply passed over as 'teenage girls' things.  Yes, Courtney was very tired sometimes, but her parents would wake up in the middle of the night and hear her on the phone.  Everyone was able to explain away Courtney’s symptoms, even her mother who was a registered nurse.  For the most part, her symptoms were never so severe that they prevented her from doing what she wanted. She was tough and after all, these were educated, trusted  physicians.  They told Chuck and Mary what they wanted to hear.

When Courtney passed out while playing volleyball and her mother saw how pale she was, she was sent for more blood work.  She was very anemic.  Unsure of the cause of the anemia, the doctor ordered a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) to see if she was losing blood via her digestive system.  Teens are not exactly eager to supply the needed sample, so it took a little longer than it should have.  During this time, her mother asked Courtney, "When you go to the bathroom, what color is it?"  Her answer was, " brown", with a look of, “what, are you kidding me?”

It was then that her mother grabbed two of Courtney’s purses, a chocolate brown and a dark cordovan, almost wine colored one.  She asked again, brown like this one or that?”  Guess which one she picked -- very dark one, a color that indicates blood in the stool.

 Kids neither look at their own bowel movements, nor do they have anything to compare them with.  It is not a topic that is usually discussed among teens, and certainly not something that they will bring up unless they actually thought it might be significant, or of course were having frank bleeding.  She had no idea that was not normal, why would she?  It is a subject that is often not discussed until one is much older.  A simple question right in the beginning could have been all that was needed.

Finding her cancer earlier may not have made that much of a difference since it was spreading and growing so fast, but then again- if they had found it a year earlier, maybe it would not have already spread to her lymph system, by the time it was found. She may have had a fighting chance.

 

Parents, you know your children best.  You know what is normal for them and when something doesn’t look right, investigate.  Symptoms that may not be unusual for some may be very unusual for others.  Physicians see us only occasionally, not day-in and day-out.  You need to be an advocate for your children and for yourself.  Don’t stop investigating until you are satisfied.

             Mary Diacont

diacontm@gmail.com