How an aspiring nurse dealt with being on the other side of care

Christina Crespi

Christina Crespi

Life was full of uncertainty for 27-year-old Christina Crespi as she battled what seemed to be a never-ending, unknown illness. As extreme fatigue and weakness persisted, and her independence dwindled, she started to feel as if she was losing a grip on her life. Finally, after a year and a half of doctor’s appointments, Christina finally got her answer: She had colon cancer. While this news would be a shock to most, Christina immediately felt a weight lifted off her shoulders.

"The initial diagnosis was a sense of relief — finally something that can be treated, something identifiable."

But this feeling of ease quickly turned into alarm.

"Relief was followed by a sense of panic because it made me think, 'Well, what does my future hold?'"

One thing Christina knew for sure was where she wanted to be treated. As a successful nurse familiar with the health care landscape, Christina immediately sought a specialist in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Colon and Rectal Cancer Center.

After initial surgery to remove her tumor, Christina was hit with news no patient wants to hear—her cancer had spread and was determined to be stage IV. While the news was difficult to swallow, Christina found comfort in Dana-Farber's patient resources. "Through Dana-Farber's Young Adult Program, I was able to connect with other people my age," she said. "Forming those relationships with other patients and seeing people who looked like me, especially in gastrointestinal oncology, was a game changer."

While most colon cancer cases occur in older adults, the rates of young-onset colorectal cancer, diagnosed in people age 50 or younger, has increased by 51 percent since 1994, according to the National Cancer Institute. Dana-Farber recently created the nation's first Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center to address this alarming trend and help provide multidisciplinary treatment and support services for patients like Christina.

As a nurse herself, Christina was not only grateful for the care and support Dana-Farber provided, but for the overall impact her experience at the Institute had on her.

"Being a patient has changed my perspective on the way I provide care and empowered me to go back and get my masters and become a nurse practitioner," she said.

Today, Christina is cancer-free, living independently, and preparing to graduate from a nurse practitioner program. She's also determined to share her experience with other young people going through cancer, so they feel less alone during what can be an alienating experience.

"I have been taking the time to enjoy the things that I enjoyed doing before my diagnosis: spending time with my friends, boyfriend, family, traveling when I can, and just enjoying living again."

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