Stephanie Tufano will never forget the day she was diagnosed with Stage 2 colorectal cancer. At the time, she was a certified running coach and health coach and was working towards certification as a personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She was also training to run in her second Ultra Marathon.
It was during her marathon training that Stephanie started experiencing “weird” stomach pains, difficulty catching her breath, and a rapid heartbeat. When a physician friend recommended Stephanie make an appointment to have bloodwork done, she considered putting it off.
“I figured I was healthy, I was an athlete and ate a plant-based diet,” she said.
But Stephanie decided to take her friend’s advice. Her bloodwork showed she was very anemic, so she made an appointment to see Juan Castro-Combs, MD, Cleveland Clinic Martin Health Gastroenterologist. After having a colonoscopy, Stephanie received the shocking news.
“I had a tumor in my colon the size of a cue ball,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. It was a scary time.”
Dr. Castro-Combs said Stephanie’s case was unusual. “She was fit and healthy and had no family history of colon cancer.”
Stephanie was also only 38 years old; 90% of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals 50 years of age and older.
Once the tumor was removed by a Cleveland Clinic Martin Health surgeon, Stephanie received a clean bill of health. She did not require chemotherapy or any further treatment.
“When you catch colon cancer early and treat it early, there is a good chance you can cure it,” Dr. Castro-Combs said.
Following her diagnosis and surgery, Stephanie’s life returned to normal. “Had I not listened to my body and took the time to get checked out, I might have gone another six months to a year as the tumor kept growing,” she said.
After having the tumor removed from her colon, Stephanie has returned to marathon running. (Courtesy: Stephanie Tufano)
Since her experience with cancer, Stephanie married her husband, Chris, and gave birth to their son the following year.
She is grateful to Dr. Castro-Combs for finding and curing her cancer. “Dr. Castro was wonderful,” she said.
Stephanie also feels fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be a wife and mother and to continue to pursue her passion of running and helping others achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute ,
Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center