close menu

Connecting with the Community

My Colon Cancer Coach Blog

5 Pieces of Advice for the Young Colon Cancer Patient

It’s still a rare occurrence that I’m a colon cancer survivor originally diagnosed at age 17 (and then again at age 25). I often feel like a purple zebra or some type of unicorn when I share my story.

And although my case will always be pretty rare… I feel like the obscure stories of other young colon and rectal cancer patients are becoming more and more common. There are more purple zebras out there.

At the time of my diagnosis, I didn’t know anyone else who’d been diagnosed with colon cancer, much less any patients under age 50. But as I’ve gotten involved with The Colon Club and Fight CRC, I’ve met many others who share a similar story. They too were told they’re awfully young for colorectal cancer.

Recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Surgery, a research report backed up the stories of so many of us. Incidence rates among patients like me, under age 50, are on the rise. And, according to current trends they are predicted to increase by 2020 and 2030, with the incidence rate for colon cancer anticipated to rise by 90 percent for patients age 20 to 34 and by 28 percent among patients age 35 to 49. Young faces will (sadly) not be unusual in the colorectal cancer world if things continue.

While there are several groups and coalitions actively engaged in stopping this trend from continuing, reality says that there will be more faces like me out there in the future fighting colorectal cancer.

So for those who are young and diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, I offer you this advice:

1. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s going to be very easy to be embarrassed. Your cancer deals with butts, farts, poop, booty – all of that stuff. The more you can embrace it and accept it, the easier this diagnosis will be.

2. Don’t compare yourself to your friends. Your peers in their teens, 20s, 30s & 40s may lead a very different life than you. Your cancer diagnosis may put you on a different course. It’s OK if your house, job and family look different than others your age.

3. Seize the day. Seriously. A “plus side” to a young cancer diagnosis (if there is such a thing!) is that you get the fragility of life. You understand that life is short in ways others do not. So take advantage of it. Make a bucket list & actually cross things off. Do the things that make you come alive. Don’t wait.

4. Be a good friend. I think cancer patients best understand what true friendship looks like. When people flock to your bedside, bring you food (if you can eat it) and even start social media campaigns for you – those are true friends. So be a good friend to others because of the insight you’ve gained.

5. Think positive. Your perception often becomes your reality. If you think “life’s not fair” – your life won’t be fair. But if you choose to see the bright side and think positively, your fight won’t only seem easier, but it will also inspire many others along the way.

About the Author

Danielle Ripley-Burgess

Danielle Ripley-Burgess is a two-time colon cancer survivor diagnosed at age 17 and again at age 25. With over a decade of survivorship under her belt, she writes about her experience on the Huffington Post and on her blog at She works for the nonprofit advocacy group Fight Colorectal Cancer as the Director of Communications and serves on the board of directors for The Colon Club. She’s married to her high school sweetheart (and caretaker), Mike, and is raising an adopted little girl, Mae.