39-year-old woman shares colon cancer experience to help others


Kimberly Graton wants others, especially Millennials, to know how important it is to advocate for their health and understand colorectal cancer symptoms.


Cake, candles — and colon cancer? On her 39th birthday, Kimberly Graton found out she had colon cancer. 


After years of feeling like doctors dismissed her symptoms, she finally found unconditional support from her fiancé and Nuvance Health care team. Kimberly shared her experience so others, especially fellow Millennials, know how important it is to advocate for their health and understand colorectal cancer symptoms.


Colon cancer symptoms


Kimberly has hypertension (high blood pressure). She has also worked hard to maintain a healthy weight, but it was challenging with a job that required sitting at a computer most of the day. In 2018, Kimberly was living in Utah. She lost nearly 30 pounds and felt good, until she saw blood in her stool.


“I went to see a doctor. They said my hereditary hypertension and weight were bigger concerns at the time. They brushed off the rectal bleeding because of my age; it was infrequent and I was not in pain,” Kimberly said.


At the time, Kimberly did not think about getting a second opinion. However, when she continued to see blood in her stool over the years, she sought help again.


“Finding care was difficult emotionally and financially. I felt like doctors shamed me for my life choices and did not spend enough time with me. It was also hard to find an in-network doctor covered by my insurance,” Kimberly said. “I got the same old story every time I visited a doctor; they did not address my symptoms and said, ‘Get your hypertension and weight under control first.’ ”


During this time, Kimberly lived in Utah, Colorado and California for a stint, which is where she is from. She also met her future husband, Jonah, during this time. They moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, in 2022 for his veterinary residency.


Danbury Hospital colon cancer patient Kimberly Graton with her husband, Jonah.


“I established a primary care doctor when I moved to Connecticut and did not even bring up my symptoms. But when they retired, I was referred to Dr. Li,” Kimberly said.



In November 2023, Kimberly resumed primary care with Dr. Weiming Li at Nuvance Health Medical Practice Primary Care Ridgefield. Jonah encouraged her to tell Dr. Li about her symptoms. 


Danbury Hospital colon cancer patient Kimberly Graton with her husband, Jonah.



“I brought it up with Dr. Li and her eyes popped out of her head. She validated my concern and said I needed to have a colonoscopy,” Kimberly said. “I wanted to have an open conversation with a doctor and acknowledgement they heard me, and that is what I got from Dr. Li.”


Weiming Li, MD, Internal Medicine, Nuvance Health Medical Practice Primary Care Ridgefield


Kimberly then met with gastroenterologist Dr. Kelly Teagle at Nuvance Health Medical Practice Gastroenterology Danbury.



Colon cancer diagnosis


Kimberly had a colonoscopy just before Thanksgiving. A gastroenterologist performs a colonoscopy to see inside the colon, or large intestine.



“I thought I would take a nap, wake up and Dr. Teagle would tell me I had something like IBS,” Kimberly said. “Instead, I was disillusioned when I woke up. Dr. Teagle said she removed a very large polyp and sent it for a biopsy.”


Kimberly got through Thanksgiving, and even made the turkey, even though she was worried about the biopsy results.


She found out she had colon cancer on her 39th birthday. Dr. Teagle connected her with Dr. Marc Casasanta, a colorectal surgeon at Nuvance Health.



Surgery to treat colon cancer


“After reading Dr. Casasanta’s bio online, I felt connected with him and thought, ‘This is my guy, I am going to be OK,’ ” Kimberly said.


“During my first visit with Dr. Casasanta, he clearly explained all the surgical options and benefits and risks of each. He even drew a picture of a colon and roadmap of my options,” Kimberly said.


“I never had surgery, not even stitches, so this was brand new to me. For my first surgery, I got really lucky with Dr. Casasanta,” Kimberly said.


Marc Casasanta, MD, Colorectal Surgery, Nuvance Health


Kimberly likes to see a Broadway show on her birthday, and she had tickets to see “Sweeney Todd” with Jonah. They stuck to the tradition, despite her cancer diagnosis. They also got married on December 3, 2023!


Danbury Hospital colon cancer patient Kimberly Graton with her husband, Jonah in New York City.


“We could have let cancer stop our lives, but we decided to do all the things we planned to do,” Kimberly said.


Danbury Hospital colon cancer patient Kimberly Graton with her husband, Jonah on their wedding day.


Kimberly had colorectal surgery on December 18, 2023. 


“Everyone on my care team was stellar — I had a lot of appointments, but I never felt confused and avoided whiplash from everything I needed to do before surgery,” Kimberly said. “I was so ill-prepared for something like this but felt like I did not miss a beat.


“I was scared to death the day of surgery. My husband came with me; bless his heart. He was able to stay with me right up until I went to the operating room,” Kimberly said. “I needed a hand to hold and was grateful my husband could stay with me for so long.”


Dr. Casasanta performed a robotic-assisted laparoscopic colectomy to treat the colon cancer. During the operation, he used robotic technology to remove the segment of the colon with cancer and reconnect it to restore normal bowel function. Surgeons perform laparoscopic surgery through small incisions to help patients recover faster.



Recovery after surgery for colon cancer


Kimberly recovered at Danbury Hospital for a few days after surgery.


“The nursing staff were so good to me. Having never been through something like this, they realized I had no idea what to ask for or say when something hurt,” Kimberly said. “I also grew up with a tough mentality instilled by my family. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that this was not the time for that kind of mentality.”


Kimberly could walk easily, but moving around and sitting up and down was very difficult because she had abdominal surgery. 


“I had no idea how serious it was until I tried to sit up!” Kimberly said.



Medical oncology for colon cancer


After surgery, Kimberly had an appointment with Dr. Kamila Bakirhan, a medical oncologist at the Danbury Hospital Praxair Cancer Center. Kimberly did not need chemotherapy or further treatment because it was early-stage colon cancer.


Genetic testing for colon cancer


Kimberly also had genetic testing, which is part of a comprehensive cancer care program. Kimberly learned she does not have a known hereditary risk for colorectal cancer.


“Genetic testing is important to gather knowledge. I felt lucky to know a lot about genetic testing and hereditary cancer because my father-in-law is a genetics counselor,” Kimberly said. 



Grateful, healthy and hopeful after surviving colon cancer


Kimberly hopes others will pay attention to preventive care, their risk for medical conditions and advocate for their health.


“I want to spread awareness about cancer, especially for younger people who might think, like I did, ‘It will never happen to me,’ ” Kimberly said. “Even though my paternal grandparents smoked and died from lung cancer, I started smoking in my mid-20s. You never think it will happen to you.”



Kimberly quit smoking years ago. Today, Kimberly is feeling well, grateful and planning her future.


“Jonah and I are more aware of preventive healthcare and what we are eating. For example, I had no idea colonoscopy screenings started at age 45 before this! We are switching to a whole-food diet and cooking more. We are thinking about starting a family and want to pass on these ideals to our child,” Kimberly said.



She and Jonah are gamers with a close-knit online community they also travel across the county to visit. They enjoy walking on pretty trails, exploring “old-timey” things and cruising around Central Park and New York City museums. They also have a household full of pets, including a dog, three cats and many reptiles.


Danbury Hospital Colon Cancer Patient Kimberly Graton.


Danbury Hospital Colon Cancer Patient Kimberly Graton with her cat.


Regarding advocating for yourself, Kimberly shared: “The scariest thing about this whole process was how long it took to find a doctor who listened and got me the care I needed. What if I had not talked to Dr. Li?”


Kelly Teagle, DO, Gastroenterology, Nuvance Health Medical Practice Gastroenterology, Kimberly Graton, Kamila Bakirhan, MD, Medical Oncology, Nuvance Health Medical Practice


Kimberly is thankful for her entire care team, as well as her family.


“My husband and in-laws were amazing; they were there for me every step of the way. I am fortunate to have found them when I did and am grateful to have them in my life,” Kimberly said.


Danbury Hospital colon cancer patient Kimberly Graton with her husband, Jonah and sister-in-law in costumes for Halloween.


“My sister-in-law drew a photo of Jonah and sent it to me when I was in the hospital. It made my day and was exactly the kind of support I needed,” Kimberly said.


Stick drawing of a person.



Disclaimer: Outcomes from cancer vary from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.