Gabriele Cahill was 32-years-old, an instructor of dance at Colorado Mesa University, the coach of the CMU dance team, and expecting her first child when she realized something just wasn’t right.
“I first realized there was something happening in my body about halfway through my pregnancy. I started to have pains in my lower right quadrant,” explains Cahill.
The pains were chalked up as round ligament pains which are very common in pregnancy, but it was also discovered Cahill was suffering from iron deficiency anemia. She was treated with iron infusions every three weeks up until she delivered her son, Ezekiel in August of 2021.
“The few weeks after I delivered my son everything was okay. I didn't have any pains. I was feeling better. And then I would say about four weeks postpartum is when the pain started to come back.”
Cahill’s OBGYN immediately sent her for an ultrasound and from there the radiologist sent her to the Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Medical Center for a CT scan and other various testing. That testing revealed her worst nightmare.
“They found a mass in my cecum. It was presumably stage 3 cancer. I was in shock. I immediately told them, this can’t be happening. I have a five-week-old,” Cahill says.
In the days following the grim discovery, Cahill met with medical oncologist Sudy Jahangiri. A woman Cahill describes as brilliant and a super woman.
“I first met Gabriel during her pregnancy when she came in with iron deficiency anemia, which is pretty common in women who are pregnant. And then I met her again after pregnancy when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. That had actually been the cause of the iron deficiency and abdominal pain she was experiencing,” explains Sudy Jahangiri, MD, St. Mary’s Medical Oncologist.
“I immediately can see myself in Gabby's shoes. She’s close to my age, a young new mom and your heart goes out to her. She has so much life ahead of her and you want to do everything you can for her,” Jahangiri continues.
Almost immediately Dr. Jahangiri realized Cahill’s colon cancer was anything but normal. When reviewing Cahill’s charts and myriad of test results she noticed a DNA malfunction. Cahill not only had stage 3 colon cancer, but she was living with Lynch Syndrome.
“Lynch syndrome is a hereditary cancer syndrome that increases the risk of colorectal cancers. And that is what placed Gaby at a higher risk for this cancer. But interestingly, it's not something that she had been aware of or that anybody in the family knew of,” adds Jahangiri.
As it turned out, the Lynch Syndrome was actually a bright spot in Cahill’s diagnosis. It meant she was eligible for a cancer treatment plan with less severe side effects.
“Because of the Lynch Syndrome, we were able to use some exciting new immunotherapy to treat her and we were able to avoid the traditional chemotherapy that's a lot more toxic,” adds Jahangiri.
Cahill underwent five months of treatment and by the end, the tumor had shrunk and the cancer was dead. She underwent surgery to remove the mass and all the scar tissue in the lymph nodes around where the mass was.
“I am now cancer free. It’s an emotional feeling, I got on the other side of this giant obstacle. It was my team of doctors and my family, all of us rallying together and staying focused and really making sure that I was staying on track with what I needed to do to get out on the other side,” Cahill exclaims.
“Going forward, her prognosis is great. There’s no remaining cancer in the surgical specimen. We’re hoping that she's going to have a normal lifespan going forward and never have to deal with this cancer again,” smiles Jahangiri.
Cahill is now enjoying life with her active 19-month-old son Ezekiel and is back to work full time at CMU teaching dance technique from jazz, hip hop, and tap. She credits her son for her second chance at life.
“I do know that my pregnancy and Ezekiel saved my life. Ezekiel gave me the gift of life as I was giving him the gift of life. And I believe that's going to make an inseparable bond for us."
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. To learn more about colon cancer and early detection screening, click here.