From cancer patient to patient parent
Despite a devastating diagnosis, Natalie Burgess fulfilled
her dreams of reaching the altar—and the delivery room
July 21, 2015
In July 2010, just weeks away from her long-awaited wedding,
Natalie Burgess, then 34, learned the cause of her painful
constipation: stage III colon cancer. Fortunately, Burgess’ doctor referred her
to UCI Health colorectal surgeon Dr. Michael Stamos, who is among the nation’s
leading colon cancer experts.
Burgess, a Long Beach City College English professor, was stunned: Colon cancer is rare
in people under 50. But new studies show that’s changing. More people in their 40s,
30s and even 20s are being diagnosed with colon cancer. It’s not clear why.
“Environmental factors or diet could be at play, but more research is needed,”
Burgess wasn’t about to delay her August wedding. But a bigger fear emerged
when the Huntington Beach resident learned that her ovaries might have to be
removed if the cancer had spread. The prospect was devastating for her and
then-fiancé, Brian, who both wanted a family.
Stamos successfully performed the surgery. To Burgess’
relief, her ovaries were safe, but the cancer had spread to
her lymph nodes, so chemotherapy would be required.
That’s when Burgess received a call from Dr. Leonard
Sender, hematology-oncology specialist and expert
on adolescent and young adult cancers. Because
chemotherapy can affect fertility, Sender recommended
harvesting her eggs and freezing the embryos, just in case.
Burgess had her dream wedding on schedule, but
postponed the honeymoon to complete the egg
retrieval process and begin chemotherapy. Today,
she’s cancer-free; she and Brian are the proud parents
of 2-year-old Isabella and 4-month-old Kevin—both
conceived the old-fashioned way, it turns out.
“I savor every moment now,”
she says. “I had the dream
team taking care of me and
I’m so grateful.”
UCI Health has one of the only programs in
the country devoted to young adults with cancer.
A multidisciplinary team provides the specialized
care and consideration these patients need, including
“Young adults have unique needs,” says Sender.
“They’re completing their education, launching a career,
starting a family. We want to provide the best medical
treatment, but also think about how treatment will
affect their lives.”
Most importantly, young adults shouldn’t ignore
symptoms like rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or
chronic constipation, just because they haven’t
reached the recommended screening age of 50. “Cancer
can occur at any age,” says Stamos. “If your symptoms are
ongoing, take them seriously—and see a doctor who will
do the same.”
For more information about colon cancer, visit
— UCI Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UCI Health Summer 2015