You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Top Stories

Young mom dying of colon cancer at 35 urges young adults to 'get screened'

TODAY logo TODAY 4/23/2019 Meghan Holohan
a couple of people posing for the camera: TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site © Courtesy Tonya Ferguson-Chams TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site

When Tonya Ferguson-Chams experienced constipation while pregnant with her daughter, she initially thought nothing of it. Digestive problems are common during pregnancy, and increased levels of hormones can slow down the digestive tract. Yet when she was about 26 weeks pregnant and symptoms persisted, she started to worry.

Braxton-Hicks contractions started and she decided to go to the hospital — just in case.

“They gave me a few medications and I thought I would go to the bathroom,” the 35-year-old mom from Sebring, Florida, remembered.

a person holding a baby posing for the camera: TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site © Courtesy Tonya Ferguson-Chams TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site

Spotting the tumor

But it didn’t work. Doctors performed a sigmoidoscopy, a scope that looks only at the sigmoid colon, and they discovered the problem: Ferguson-Chams had a golf-ball sized tumor blocking her descending colon. Doctors wanted to remove it, but her pregnancy made it challenging.

“Most people would get it removed laparoscopically, but because I was pregnant there was a risk of hurting the baby,” she said. “(I) ended up having the major abdominal surgery, which put me in preterm contractions, but they stopped.”

“I was like, ‘It is probably fine.’ And my husband said, ‘No, something is wrong,’” she explained, adding that her husband, David, is a doctor.

Ferguson-Chams’ heart raced as she breathed rapidly. Soon, the baby’s heart rate plummeted as contractions began. Doctors prepared her for an emergency cesarean section, but then the baby’s heart rate returned to normal. Instead, they tried stopping the contractions.

a girl standing in front of a building: TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site © Courtesy Tonya Ferguson-Chams TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site

An emergency delivery

When contractions didn’t stop, Ferguson-Chams delivered her baby at 30 weeks. Sophia was 2 pounds, 11 ounces. When Sophia went to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), doctors did a CT scan of Ferguson-Chams and discovered the problem: Her incision ruptured and she was in septic shock. They performed surgery to close the incision in her colon.

“I was so weak. I didn’t get to meet my daughter for three days,” she said. “I couldn’t turn myself over in bed. My husband had to physically come over and turn me over."

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Ferguson-Chams eventually went home while Sophia remained in the NICU for 57 days. While doctors wanted her to start chemotherapy to treat the stage 4 cancer, she was still weak and losing weight because it felt too painful to eat.

She received esophageal dilations to help her eat and drink and started chemotherapy in January 2017.

The cancer kept spreading

In September 2017, she underwent another surgery to remove tumors from her liver, take out more of her colon and perform a hysterectomy because her ovaries had cancer on them.

“As long as I am on chemo, the cancer seems to be stagnant,” she explained.

But it hasn’t gone away.

In July 2018, she underwent hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), where a surgeon fills the abdominal cavity with chemotherapy drugs immediately after removing tumors, to try to remove all the cancer. But Ferguson-Chams still has cancer in her lungs.

“Every time the doctors give me not the greatest news, I take it as a challenge,” she said.

a little girl posing for a picture: TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site © Courtesy Tonya Ferguson-Chams TODAY, product courtesy of merchant site

Even though the outlook is bleak — doctors told her they don't expect her to live past November — she chooses to focus on joy.

“You have two options: You can try to be positive about this or you can be negative about it," she said. "I am not going to let this get the best of me.”

Her goal is to help others. In mid-April, Ferguson-Chams and her friends and family raised about $25,000 to donate to cancer research during a Relay for Life.

“I have got to make a positive of a horrible situation," she said.

“If you have that feeling that something is wrong, press your doctor,” she said. “The earlier they find it, the more treatable it is. Stage one has a 90 percent remission rate … Get screened.”

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon