At 39, Jamie Jackson was the picture of health. The mother of three exercised, ate right and stayed active with family and church.
But inside, she was far from healthy.
Her first colonoscopy showed a 2 1/2-centimeter cancerous tumor, silently growing inside her large intestine. The news was a shock.
“If I can get colon cancer, anyone can get colon cancer,” said Jackson, who has since recovered. “I feel like I need to be the poster child for this diagnosis because I was so young.”
March: Colon Cancer Awareness Month
An estimated 50,000 Americans died from colorectal cancer in 2021, said Dr. Sree Suryadevara of The Colorectal Center in Nashville. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a reminder that early detection is key.
“This is a potentially preventable disease through effective screening,” Suryadevara said. “Screening through colonoscopy can identify and remove precancerous polyps before developing into cancer.”
Doctors now recommend a baseline screening by age 45.
In 2017, though, Jackson was a decade younger than the previously recommended age. That early summer, she noticed an increasing occurrence of rectal bleeding in her stool. One day in August, she was alarmed by a “measurable amount.”
“I was turning 40 in September (2017),” Jackson said. “I know women my age can have some bleeding and I did not have any risk factors. I do not smoke. I do not drink. I exercise faithfully. I eat well. I have no family history.”
Her husband, Chad Jackson, a local urologist, queried fellow physicians, and the couple decided she should get checked.
“I was trying to keep things looking normal because I have three kids,” recalled Jackson, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
Jackson received 27 daily radiation treatments and five weeks of oral chemotherapy.
By the beginning of 2018, she underwent a six-hour surgery. Suryadevara removed the cancerous area and resected her bowel. A temporary ileostomy bag diverted any waste into a pouch on her abdomen, allowing the interior incision to heal.
Worry was something Jamie Jackson battled for a while. “Sometimes I was stuck in the darkness,” she said.
Silver linings light the way
The prescription for worry was seeking silver linings.
“If I was having a bad day, somebody would show up with muffins, or there would be a card in the mail,” said Jackson, who spoke at the annual Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Foundation Gala two weeks after her surgery. The organization is a fundraising arm for the not-for-profit hospital.
In the stillness of the night, her thoughts were often filled with dread.
Will I see my children graduate?
Will I see them get married?
Will I see my kids have kids?
As her mind dove into “the rabbit hole,” she sought the light.
“I’d keep a candle burning so I could have something I could focus on and not go to the darkness,” Jackson said. She chose a meditation, inhaling and exhaling words like “grace” and “peace.”
Nearly five years after the ordeal, Jackson’s screenings are normal.
She looks back at the journey as a time of learning – about herself, what really matters in life and her deepened relationship with God.
Part of the mother’s attitude rubbed off on her children, too.
“It’s nice seeing her have a positive outlook and we followed her,” said 18-year-old Emma Jackson, a 2022 valedictorian at Oakland High.
The teenager was so inspired by her mother’s journey, she is planning a career in healthcare.
Although it was painful and scary, Jamie Jackson said she would not change it. Her mother and father came to help the year she was sick, taking over their daughter’s daily duties. The year after Jamie Jackson’s cancer diagnosis, her mother died.
“That’s why God placed this diagnosis in my lap so that I could have those eight months with my mom that I would not have had,” Jamie Jackson said, crying.
To remind her of the journey she traveled, Jamie Jackson wears tennis shoes decorated with beads that spell out “joy,” “happy” and “alive.”
Prepping tips for colonoscopy
Colon cancer survivor Jamie Jackson shared some of her pre-colonoscopy tips.
Schedule your colonoscopy the first morning appointment available.
There are a variety of cleanse options, so ask your doctor what works best for you. Jackson prefers the pill version.
A few days before, eat a low-residue diet such as white breads, rice and cooked vegetables.
Two days prior, drink a lot more water than usual (overhydrate). This will help prepare your body for the cleanse.
The day before, you can only have clear liquids like broth, Gatorade or items like flavored gelatin (like lemon or orange). Stay away from red, blue and green dyes.
Purchase Boudreaux’s Butt Paste for the aftermath.
Have some acetaminophen on hand in case you get a headache from dehydration. On that note, be sure to rehydrate after the procedure.
Reach reporter Nancy DeGennaro at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: A Murfreesboro mother shares tips for surviving colon cancer