Shelby woman, diagnosed with colon cancer at 22, warns others about disease

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 5184By DEBRA KASZUBSKI


Shelby Township resident Janel Kapral was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was only 22 years old.

Kapral was a student at Central Michigan University in June 2002 at the time of the diagnosis. It all started when she struggled with flu-like symptoms for too long. She made an appointment with her doctor and blood work reveled her hemoglobin was shockingly low. Further testing confirmed she was one of a small number of people her age with colorectal or colon cancer.

“It was shocking,” she said, “and shocking to other people, too. No one believed I had cancer because I was so young. But it does happen to people of all ages.”

At a time when she should have been thinking about college exams and schedules, Kapral was dealt a devastating diagnosis. She had to take time off from school; go through surgery to remove a section of her colon, an ovary and fallopian tube; then undergo six months of chemotherapy. But that’s in the past and today, Kapral is doing well.

“I have been cancer-free for 12 years,” she said.

Kapral, a 1998 graduate of Eisenhower High School, now works for a gastroenterology office in Troy. And she regularly participates in the Shelby Township Relay for Life event in May where she celebrates her survivorship.

She urges people – no matter what their age – to speak up when they aren’t feeling well, and if they don’t trust their doctor’s diagnosis they should look elsewhere. “Become your own advocate,” she said. “Listen to your body and if you don’t feel right, don’t take a chance.”

According to the American Cancer Society, in Michigan, an estimated 4,500 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and nearly 1,700 people will die from colorectal cancer this year. Half of all colon cancer deaths each year could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older got screened.

Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a polyp, which is a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum. If the polyp is found early, doctors can remove it and stop colorectal cancer before it starts.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women at average risk for colon cancer begin screening at age 50. Those at increased risk should talk to their doctor about screening before age 50.

Those at a higher risk of developing colon cancer include people with a personal or family history of colon cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. Also, there are certain genetic factors that increase the likelihood of having colon cancer. Obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, a diet high in red or processed meat, and inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables also increase risk.

Early colon cancer usually causes no symptoms and can be detected by available colon cancer screening tests. However, as colon cancer progresses, the disease may cause symptoms, including changes in bowel habits, a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that doesn’t go away even after you do have a bowel movement, bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool, cramping or gnawing stomach pain, and weakness and fatigue.

The Shelby Township Relay for Life – an even that raises money to support the efforts of the American Cancer Society – takes place from 10 a.m. May 17 to 10 a.m. May 18 at River Bends Park in Shelby Township. Teams may still sign up to participate. For more information, call 248-663-3404 or visit