Imagine being at home one night in your living room singing along to music with your husband while making dinner and then, just like that, the phone rings and your entire life changes without warning.

This was an unfortunate reality for Shannon Sylvain, who received a call from her doctor one evening with bad news that marked the beginning of her continued battle with colorectal cancer, which is better known as colon cancer.

“My doctor asked if I was sitting down,” recalled Sylvain. “After telling her yes, I remember her voice cracking when she explained that they saw evidence of colon cancer during the procedure.”

The news was tough to swallow.
“I was in disbelief … all I could think was how badly I wanted to stay in this moment with my husband, in our home, singing Stevie Wonder songs and laughing,” she continued.

Sylvian, was diagnosed last year at the age of 31. After the doctor confirmed she didn’t have internal hemorrhoids and there was blood in her stool over time, Sylvain had a colonoscopy done.

“[It] is something that everyone should get at least once … colon cancer is considered the silent killer because there aren’t really huge symptoms,” Sylvain continued.

The colonoscopy cost her $3,000 out of pocket. The testing wasn’t covered by her insurance because she did not meet the age requirement, which for most companies is 50. In addition, she hadn’t yet met her in-network insurance deductible.

Sylvain recalls her doctor telling her that colon cancer can be preventable but disproportionately affects Blacks for two reasons: “Access to financial resources and good doctors.”

“That information was very startling to me since colon cancer is preventable and you don’t have to die from it even if diagnosed,” she shared.

Given the sticker shock from her out of pocket cost, it made sense to her that a colonoscopy might not be the first option for every patient.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent reports show that Black men have the highest rate of getting colon cancer, followed by whites then Hispanics. Amongst women, Black women have the highest rate of getting the disease, followed by whites then Hispanics.

Last April, Sylvain had her first surgery for stage IV colorectal cancer and shortly afterward she began daily radiation for two months. She endured chemotherapy for another six months until she was told at the end of last year that she was cancer-free. 

Sadly, last week she encountered another bump in the road on her journey of recovery. She was notified that the colon cancer is now showing up in her liver.

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Sylvian admits that learning the news was rough. “It was difficult for my family, but we are believers and will continue to pray through this … I know God wouldn’t put more on me than I can bare.”

As of way to build awareness and provide financial assistance for colonic screenings, she created a non-profit organization, Brown Sugar Rehab. The organization aims to promote education on excessive sugar consumption, preventative health strategies and become a financial resource for those in need of testing.

Some of the common symptoms for the disease include: blood in your stool, fatigue, constipation, and stomachaches; however many of the symptoms seem to be regular pains, which can result in less people knowing that they need to get a colonoscopy.

Sylvian plans to release a series of public service announcements that feature celebrities like Underground  co-stars Aisha Hinds and Jurnee Smollett-Bell.

“My biggest thing is prevention. If we can be having a conversation and be properly educated about colon cancer, then it can be a conversation that’s easy to have with your family, your friends and amongst other people,” Sylvain continued.


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