RICHMOND, Va. -- Inside these walls at VCU Medical Center on the seventh floor you will find someone far more formidable than together bricks and mortar prove strong.
For most of her young life good health defined Jessica Joseph. “I felt like a normal teenaged kid, you know.”
But one night in December 2016 while studying for an anatomy exam, the junior at Collegiate noticed something wrong. The pain was too much to bear.
“It was some of the worst back pain I’ve ever had,” says Jessica.
She thought she had the stomach bug.
Following a battery of tests doctors delivered devastating news to Jessica and her family. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
“That was a big shock to hear those words you have cancer for the first time,” says Jessica. “For me to hear it was really fast growing.”
For more than a year Jessica would endure rounds of endless chemotherapy and surgeries. All were unsuccessful at eliminating her spreading cancer.
“It has metastasized,” says Jessica. “It was definitely disappointing to learn they could not get it all. It had to happen to someone and I guess that someone was me.”
Jessica once thought colon cancer was an "old man's disease" but startling new numbers show otherwise.
An American Cancer Society study shows the death rate for colorectal cancer among adults 20-54 has been increasing.
Jessica's surgeon, Dr. Brian Kaplan, said while it is rare to see a teen like Jessica diagnosed, he said he has seen a sharp increase in number of younger faces at VCU Massey Cancer Center.
“She is incredibly strong and courageous to have battled this over the last two years,” said Jessica. “We unfortunately have patients in their 20’s and 30’s with colon and rectal cancer.”
Now at Stage 4 oncologists said there is little they can do for Jessica except to make her comfortable.
“Just been taking things one day at a time what I’ve been doing really. Just appreciate the little things,” says Jessica.
Jessica was told she has a year or less to live.
“It made me slow down and I want to appreciate each day,” says Jessica.
The 18-year-old says she had so many plans.
“Lot of things I want to do. Drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible or go to Jerusalem and write a prayer on the western wall.”
Recently, she married her high school sweetheart of three years in a simple ceremony.
“It’s sort of you don’t have that much time to live so why not. You love them. You should spend that time with them,” says Jessica.
Jessica remains pragmatic about the cancer robbing her of a future.
“I am supposed to graduate at the end of May so hopefully I’ll be there at the end of May,” says Jessica.
The high school senior is making the most of what little time she has left. Jessica is sharing her story in hopes others will get screened in hopes of saving lives.
“It is important to get checked,” says Jessica. “Pay attention to your body. You know how your body is supposed to feel and when something is wrong with it.”
Susan said her daughter’s strength is unwavering.
“It is something that no parent should deal with their child go through this. Or to lose a child,” Susan said. “Jessica is incredibly brave to be telling her story. She is really committed to letting people know; particularly young people that this something that can happen to them.”
Cancer may be robbing her of life, but Jessica Joseph is staying strong to the finish.
“I’d like people to remember me as someone who was kind and cared about others. Fought hard and tried her best at everything.”
Jessica is hoping to be strong enough to make her high school graduation at Collegiate on May 25.
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