The Faces of Cancer

Camas mothers endure the effects of colon cancer

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Kendra Wilks (left) and Lisa Jooste (right), both of Camas, met through mutual friends. Wilks has been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, while Jooste survived stage 4. "We are not your typical colon cancer patients," Jooste said. "We are in our early 40s, and we were both diagnosed late." She has been cancer free for almost a year. "Listen to your body," she said. "Get your colonoscopy."

A work of art in Lisa Jooste’s kitchen serves more than just a decorative purpose. It is inspiring – to her and her family.

The “Celebrate” sign was sent by a friend in Wisconsin to Jooste, on her last day of chemotherapy – March 23, 2010.

“It is to remind my entire family that every day there is something to celebrate,” she said.

That includes rainy days when Jooste has to walk her dog Winston. The family also includes Jooste’s husband Bruce and their daughters Madison and Carla.

Jooste, 45, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer on May 7, 2009.

“I had not been feeling great in the months prior to my diagnosis,” she said. “I was very tired and had some weight loss. The thought of cancer – especially colon cancer – never entered my mind.”

During a routine check up, Jooste’s primary care doctor suggested a colonoscopy/endoscopy to determine the cause of her blood loss-related anemia. During that procedure with a gastroenterologist, a large tumor was found in her lower colon.

Jooste was told her tumor could have been growing for eight to 10 years.

“Listen to your body,” she recommended. “Be persistent with your primary care provider. If they’re not listening or helping to figure out what is wrong, get a new doctor.”

After MRI and PET scans showed multiple areas of cancer including lymph nodes and her liver, Jooste underwent 12 sessions of chemotherapy and three surgeries.

During that time, she was humbled by the number of people who were willing to help.

“I did not have to cook for months,” Jooste said. “It’s a lifesaver some days, because you just don’t feel like it.”

Kendra Wilks, 41, of Camas, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer on Dec. 13, 2010.

It was discovered during a colonoscopy.

Her symptoms included three months of bowel changes.

“It was hard to keep my regular routine,” Wilks said.

Before having a colonoscopy, she underwent tests to determine she did not have a parasite or bacterial infection. Wilks also went on an elimination diet, which did not include dairy, wheat or eggs.

She thought she was allergic to milk.

“It is not known what causes colon cancer,” Wilks said. “It baffled the doctor. Most of my life, I have been a vegetarian and a marathon runner. There’s no good reason. That’s why we need to talk about it.

“Pay attention if something is out of the ordinary,” she added. “It took three doctors to figure it out.”

As of last week, Wilks had undergone four chemotherapy treatments. The last one is expected to occur in June.

Wilks visualizes having a big party this summer, to thank all of the people who have helped her during this time.

“I am learning my support system is bigger than I thought,” Wilks said. “The women in Camas are amazingly strong.

“I’m learning to rest and be patient with myself and ask for help,” she added.

Wilks’ friends have helped with grocery shopping, cooking dinner, driving her to chemotherapy and watching her children.

She said she already knew her family is the most important thing. Wilks and her husband Rick are the parents of Owen and Ella.

“I appreciate the small moments so much now – the quiet moments of tucking them in at night, the conversations after school, enjoying nature together and the lessons learned with each passing day,” Wilks said.