Social Media Specialist , BC Cancer Foundation

In January 2019, Catherine Perka started noticing some alarming lower digestive symptoms in the form of blood in her stool, change of bowel movement patterns and uncomfortable bloating. After several visits to her doctor, Catherine was finally referred to a Gastroenterologist for a sigmoidoscopy.

“They warned me that I would not get an appointment for a long time because I am young and healthy,” says Catherine. “I was surprised that my appointment was not until that May, which meant I had to wait four months for any answers.”

In the meantime, Catherine tried to put on a brave face and continue with daily life, but she knew something wasn’t right. Newly married, Catherine and her husband continued to look for answers but all tests came back as normal. During this time, the young couple also learned that Catherine was newly pregnant and were feeling excited for the future.

When May 8th rolled around for her sigmoidoscopy, Catherine’s doctors found a mass in her rectum that was later diagnosed as Stage III colorectal cancer. In a heartbreaking turn of events, Catherine and her husband were thrust into a world of unknowns, and went through the tragic experience of having to terminate her pregnancy.

“My first thought when I was told that I have cancer was simply, ‘Am I going to die?’” remembers Catherine. “My next thoughts were all about my family; my parents, my siblings, my in-laws. How will we tell them this news and how will they handle it. I was just in complete shock.”

Upon diagnosis, Catherine started on a gruelling treatment plan at BC Cancer, which consisted of 25 rounds of radiation and chemo every day for five weeks, a lower anterior resection with a temporary loop ileostomy, six rounds of further chemotherapy, and a second surgery to reverse the ileostomy.

Today, she has finished five of the six rounds of chemotherapy and feels optimistic with the care she continues to receive.

“When I arrived at BC Cancer, I was welcomed with open arms, warm smiles, and a lot of caring people,” says Catherine. “Everyone there has gotten to know me as an individual and they treat me like a person, not a cancer patient. They have all cheered me on every step of the way, hugged me and sat with me when I needed it, and they genuinely care about my health.”

As Catherine continues on her journey, she remains a strong voice for young people to advocate for their health and wants to push for more widespread screening of colorectal cancers. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and young adults need to understand they are at risk.”

We thank Catherine for bravely sharing her story in honour of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and for hosting her own cancer fundraiser later in the month that has already raised close to $5,000 for BC Cancer – Surrey.