Written by Mandy Nelson, about her friend Christine Niemi
My name is Mandy Nelson. I live in Saint Paul, MN where I have worked for 11 years as an RN in the St. Joseph’s Hospital float pool. Obviously my job places me in contact with those dealing with cancers of all types and degrees and patients dealing with the physical and emotional toll cancer and its treatment place on them; loved ones trying to find any way to be a source of support. But it was my best friend, Christine Niemi, who truly introduced me to the cruel and unfair realities associated with metastatic colon cancer.
Christine was originally diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer that had spread to the liver in August 2005 at the age of 28. After two major surgeries and months of chemotherapy, she had no evidence of disease. This blessed reprieve lasted only about one month. Then, in June 2007, a reoccurrence was discovered in her abdomen. At that point it became very clear that Christine’s colon cancer had become a chronic illness. She has a blog that chronicles much of her journey:coloncancersucksass.blogspot.com.
In March 2009, Christine introduced me to the advocacy group now known as Fight Colorectal Cancer. I accompanied her to the group’s annual “Call On Congress” in Washington D.C., along with nearly 70 other advocates (including several of the amazing “Get Your Rear in Gear” gals). We marched up to Capitol Hill and demanded coverage for colonoscopies and treatment for both the uninsured and under-insured. This request for colonoscopy coverage was near and dear to my heart, as Christine did not have insurance coverage the winter/spring of 2005 when she started developing signs and symptoms of colon cancer (i.e. anemia, weight-loss, fatigue, etc). Thus, the doctors did not push for a colonoscopy, as Christine could not afford it. They simply diagnosed her with iron-deficiency anemia, and sent her on her way. It wasn’t until her bowel perforated in August of that same year, that they realized how truly ill she was. Would a colonoscopy have saved her? It very well might have — at least the disease probably would have been detected and treated at an earlier stage, greatly improving her chances of survival.
Christine passed away July 18, 2009 after nearly a 5-year battle with colon cancer. Her strength, quick wit, and determination to continue living a “normal” life throughout her struggle with cancer was truly an inspiration. It is because of her that I initially became an advocate to try and fight for my friend and others in her situation — and those yet to be diagnosed. It is because of her that I continue the fight in her honor. Advocacy groups like Fight Colorectal cancer and Colon Cancer Coalition’s “Get Your Rear in Gear” give all of us an active way to support loved ones struggling with colorectal cancer; as well as empowering individuals to be their own well-informed advocates in their own cancer journey. Colorectal cancer does not just affect the middle-aged and elderly, it can happen to anyone. So, we need to stand up as a nation and fight this cancer. I hope Christine’s story inspires many of you to do just that.