IN THE NEWS: Derek Dienner Featured on SurvivorNet
The following article was originally published on SurvivorNet on February 6th, 2021.
Producer Derek Dienner Battled Colon Cancer at Just 31; His Message About the Disease Is One Worth Sharing
SHELBY BLACK | FOR SURVIVORNET | FEB 6, 2021
Film producer Derek Dienner never expected to battle stage 3 colon cancer, much less at age 31. Now, he’s sharing an important message about awareness with the SurvivorNet community.
When film producer Derek Dienner was told he had colon cancer at just 31-years-old, to say he was shocked was an understatement. He had no family history or genetic mutations that would make him high-risk, and now he wants to help educate everyone on cancer awareness.
“The biggest shock of my 30’s was to go into a colonoscopy and then come out the other side and get diagnosed with cancer,” Dienner tells SurvivorNet about his diagnosis in August 2017. He realized something was wrong when he started experiencing gastrointestinal and bowel problems for nearly two months straight. He eventually consulted a specialist, who suggested he go through a colonoscopy just to be safe despite being so young. Turns out, it was the decision that could have been made.
“I had a colonoscopy and then my wife and I were sitting in the room when a doctor comes in and just looked really sad,” Dienner says. “I could tell on his face. I think we both knew that it wasn’t great news. So then he shared with me that I had colon cancer tumor in my sigmoid colon, but [the doctor] was very comforting by saying it was treatable.”
Dienner’s diagnosis was especially surprising considering how young he was at the time. Typically, people who are considered “high risk” for the disease are those who are older. In fact, 90% of most colon cancer diagnoses occur to those who are 50 years or older.
Once receiving his diagnosis, Dienner immediately went through a treatment plan which included surgery to remove the tumor and more tests to see if the disease had spread. Needless to say, this journey was an emotional roller coaster for both Dienner and his family, especially since his wife watched her father pass away from pancreatic cancer. Thankfully, Dienner’s prognosis looked good, and following surgery he went through chemotherapy rounds for the next six months. Like any treatment plan, Dienner experienced side-effects as a result of the chemotherapy such as fatigue, weakness, and neuropathy. Despite the tough journey, Dienner completed his final chemotherapy treatment in March 2018 and has been making new memories with his family.
“It sucks being diagnosed with cancer when you’re 31, but also it’s good to be young because you can beat it easier,” Dienner says. “You know, your body’s not as beat up as when you’re older and fighting cancer. Sometimes it just still hits me that I survived cancer. That’s part of my story.”
During his treatment, Dienner decided to embrace his creativity and love of film by documenting his battle with colon cancer. Not only was this a way for him to cope with overwhelming emotions he was feeling during treatment, but he also wanted to spread awareness about young people being diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes, it may be easy for younger people to assume they’re not at risk of cancer since screening guidelines target those who are older. Currently, it’s recommended that people start screening for colon cancer at 45-years-old.
This decision was in response to the increase of colon cancer diagnoses in younger adults. However, many insurance companies still do not cover the cost of screenings for those below the age of 50. In the past, the disease had predominantly been found in adults 50-years or older, but for those predisposed to get it at a younger age, these new guidelines could potentially help catch it at an earlier stage.
“Cancer doesn’t care who you are, what age you are, what gender you are, or what you’re going through in life; it can affect everybody,” Dienner says. “Listen, I was young; there are other people that are young. You need to take it seriously. I was trying to advocate that, but at the end of the day everybody has to advocate for themselves. You have to be your own advocate. That’s important.”