Young Colon-Cancer Survivor Searches for a Cure

PHOTO: Gloria Borges and Dr. Heinz Josef-Lenz are working together to raise $250 million to cure colon cancer.
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Her age fooled doctors big-time.

Gloria Borges, 28, seemed too young to have colon cancer. From January to July, the hard-working attorney and had been plagued by bloating and extreme diarrhea. Her general practitioner told her to take probiotics and herbal supplements.

But by September she couldn't ignore the debilitating symptoms.

She checked herself into a hospital in downtown Los Angeles, where it took doctors five days to realize she needed emergency surgery for stage-four colon cancer.

"Like anybody else who's 28 and experiencing [gastrointestinal] issues, I just wrote it off as other issues," said Borges, who at the time was told she would live just another year or two.

Now she's 31 and harnessing her youth, in an unusual partnership with a top cancer researcher. The goal is to steer an ambitious $250 million fundraising initiative to cure colon cancer, a disease that is often hard to raise funds for because of an "ick" factor.

Colon cancer is on the rise among young people, with more than 10 per 100,000 adults between the ages of 20 to 49 afflicted with the disease in 2007, up from more than 8 per 100,000 in 1992, according to the American Cancer Society.

People younger than 30 make up 2 to 3 percent of all colon-cancer patients, said Borges, who has blogged about colon cancer for three years and runs The WunderGlo Foundation, a public-education group that raises funds for colon-cancer research.

Yet the diagnosis is difficult for younger adults because colon-cancer screenings are only recommended for people older than 50, said Jasmine Greenamyer, chief operating officer for the nonprofit group Colon Cancer Alliance.

"If [the diagnosis is] under 50 ... it's often misdiagnosed as anemia, hemorrhoids or, 'You just had a baby,'" she said. "The only population increasing in incidence is under 50. It's a big call to action."

The American Cancer Society says the reasons for the uptick in younger adults' being diagnosed with colon cancer are "unknown" but might reflect the nation's obesity epidemic, which has ballooned in recent decades.

Younger diagnoses are changing the picture of the colon-cancer patient. A photo of Borges on her anti-cancer initiative, The Wunder Project (part of her foundation), shows her wearing a T-shirt that says, "My oncologist is my homeboy."

She produced a viral "Harlem Shake" video in his cancer center that grabbed almost a million hits.

Since her diagnosis and treatment, Borges, who is married and lives in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, has traded antitrust litigating for fighting for cancer research. Her idea of a great party is one that takes place in an intensive-care unit.

Music blasts from her hospital room after surgeries as streams of friends and family members come in to laugh and enjoy themselves, Borges said.

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