Local woman shares her story of being diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 40

According to the American Cancer Society, rates of colon and rectal cancer are increasing in people under 50.
Her treatment over the last four years has included surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 9:00 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer this year alone. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.

The ACS reports the number of people being diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer has dropped overall since the mid-1980s. Experts say that’s due in large part to more people getting screened and changing their lifestyle-related risk factors. But the downward trend is mostly in older adults. For people under the age of 50, rates have been increasing by one to two percent a year since the mid-’90s.

Jeny Mazza is a teacher at Elizabeth Wayne Preschool in Maumee. Four years ago, at the age of 40, Jeny was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer.

“When you’re told you have cancer, you immediately go to the worst-case scenario. I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I always think about what her life might be like if I’m not here,” Mazza said.

Following her diagnosis, Jeny underwent surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

“On the outside watching me, you’d never know I am sick. An important thing is to be kind to everyone because you don’t know what someone is dealing with on a daily basis,” Mazza said.

Mazza added the importance of not ignoring warning signs and not being afraid to have a conversation about symptoms.

“We don’t talk about stools and bowel movements because it’s taboo, but we have to get past the embarrassment. If I had followed my gut from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. But maybe I am here so I can share my story and help someone else,” she said.

Cristy Seely, the preschool’s director, said Jeny’s story brought about changes in her life.

“Before, when doctors would say get your mammogram or other tests, I would say ‘okay, yeah yeah’ Now I take it very seriously. Jeny has inspired me on a number of levels. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does. She is a strong woman.” Seely said.

The American Cancer Society now recommends that people at average risk get a colonoscopy at 45, which is sooner than the prior recommendation of age 50.

“Everyone who meets me says, ‘you are so young to be going through this,’ but there are 20-year-olds who are going through this. Don’t wait. Please, if you have any symptoms, go to the doctor, and if your doctor won’t schedule a colonoscopy, find one who will,” Mazza said.

Elizabeth Wayne Preschool is hosting a fundraiser to help Jeny and her family by raising money and awareness.

“You don’t realize who your people are until something like this happens. My people are here at school, along with my family. I have a great support system,” Mazza said.

If you’d like to help Jeny, the fundraiser is this Saturday.

The Winter Carnival runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the preschool located on 310 Elizabeth Street in Maumee. The carnival will provide food, inflatables, and games. The proceeds will go toward Jeny’s medical bills.

In addition, there will be a bake sale and raffle. Mazza’s Stone Baked Pizza will also provide food for purchase. The pizzeria, located on 5105 N Summit St., is owned by Jeny’s husband.

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