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Updated: Mar 21

Information in this post is being shared with the permission of the party being interviewed.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and I’m fortunate enough to know a brave, young cancer survivor who used her diagnosis to help future cancer patients thrive. Jessika Perkins, MS, RD, CSO, LDN is a Clinical Dietitian at a local hospital, and her story is nothing short of inspiring.

Tell us a little about your story.

I now know I have a genetic mutation that causes juvenile polyposis and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. In 2011 at 23 yrs old, I had diarrhea that did not go away despite my PCP feeling like I had a stomach bug. After a couple of weeks of this I developed bloody diarrhea which lead them directly admitting me to the hospital for a workup. At the time they found 50+ polyps throughout my colon and learned that I had early stage colon cancer. 

How did you know when to seek help?

I knew something wasn't right and basically needed to keep advocating for myself. At 23 years old, my diagnosis was far from what is most likely to have been going on. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to ask! Research is showing that people are being diagnosed younger and younger with colon cancer- be aware of the symptoms and get checked!

What did you learn through your journey that you wish to pass along to others going through the same situation?

It’s okay to not be okay! Whatever your cancer journey ends up being, it is hard on us physically and mentally. It’s okay to feel upset and process your feelings.

What would you have changed about your experience?

I did not ask for some supportive care services because I did not want to be a bother to my medical team. Now, on the other side of this as part of the care team, I know how silly it was for me to not ask for help from my care team when I needed it. I lost 40 lbs in a span of 3 months because I didn’t think I needed help. While this got my interested in nutrition, I know now that I should have ask for more support.

In honor of National Dietitians Day, tell us about your educational background.

I have a BA in Psychology from UNCC in Charlotte and a Master’s in Nutrition from Meredith College in Raleigh. In 2021, I obtained my board certification in oncology nutrition. 

What led you to your profession?

My diagnosis is what got me interested in nutrition! I was in my last semester of undergrad and planned on going on to grad school to be a psychologist. Because of everything, I had 3 year gap between graduating and going back to school to be a dietitian. I knew I wanted to work with people like me who needed nutrition support during all aspects of cancer treatment.

What is the most common misconception about your job? or What is something that most people DON'T know about dietitians? 

Probably the biggest misconception I hear from patients is that I will judge their eating habits. Nothing can be further from the truth! As a RD, my job is to meet you wherever you are at and help guide you to your goals. Whether that be in cancer prevention, helping you through treatment, or in survivorship. Dietitians eat like the rest of the world- imperfectly!

From your experience, what is the most valuable piece of advice that you wish you could give to every patient?

This isn’t just about nutrition, but I would recommend patients let their care team help them. It’s so easy to feel like you have to take everything on yourself and if you show that you need help it is a sign of weakness. Your care team is there to support you in anyway you need and just want to see you succeed. 

We would like to thank Mrs. Perkins for her resiliency, determination, and compassion, as well as her willingness to share her story in honor of Colon Cancer Awareness Month and National Dietitians Day!

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