A local woman tells her story of being diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 40.

TOLEDO, OH (WTVG) – March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

More than 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society. With the exception of skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.

The ACS reports that the number of people diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer has generally declined since the mid-1980s. Experts say this is largely due to more people getting screened and changing their lifestyle risk factors. But the downward trend is mainly observed in the elderly. For people under 50 years of age, rates have increased by one to two percent per year since the mid-1990s.

Janie Mazza is a teacher at Momi’s Elizabeth Wayne Preschool. Four years ago, at the age of 40, Janie was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.

“When you are told that you have cancer, you immediately begin to act according to the worst-case scenario. I have a 16-year-old daughter and I always think about what her life could be like if I wasn’t here,” Mazza said.

After being diagnosed, Janie underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

“Outside, watching me, you will never guess that I am sick. It’s important to be kind to everyone because you don’t know what someone is going through on a daily basis,” Mazza said.

Mazza added that it’s important not to ignore warning signs and not be afraid to talk about symptoms.

“We don’t talk about stools and defecation because it’s taboo, but we have to get over the embarrassment. If I had followed my intuition from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. But maybe I’m here to share my story and help someone else,” she said.

Christy Seeley, the preschool principal, said Janie’s story changed her life.

“Before, when doctors said, get a mammogram or other tests, I would say: “OK, yes, yes.” Now I take this very seriously. Janie inspired me on several levels. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does. She is a strong woman.” Seeley said.

The American Cancer Society now recommends that people at average risk get a colonoscopy at age 45, which is earlier than the previous recommendation at age 50.

“Everyone who meets me says, ‘You are so young to go through this,’ but there are also 20-year-olds who go through it. Do not wait. Please, if you have any symptoms, see a doctor, and if your doctor doesn’t order a colonoscopy, find someone who will,” Mazza said.

Elizabeth Wayne Preschool is hosting a fundraiser to help Janie and her family by raising money and awareness.

“You don’t understand who your people are until something like this happens. My people are here at the school, along with my family. I have a great support system,” Mazza said.

If you want to help Janie, the fundraiser will take place this Saturday.

Winter Carnival takes place from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm at the preschool located at 310 Elizabeth Street in Maumee. There will be food, inflatable toys and games at the carnival. The proceeds will go towards paying Janie’s medical bills.

In addition, there will be a bake sale and a raffle. Food is also available at Mazza’s Stone Baked Pizza. The pizzeria, located at 5105 N Summit St., is owned by Janie’s husband.

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