I am a 59 year old female born in KC, MO and now live in Collierville, TN. I have been a registered nurse for almost 39 years. For the last 10 years I have been a worker’s compensation case manager and doing cost projections on the complainant’s injuries. I am able to work from home and set my own hours which made it very helpful during the cancer treatment. I have two wonderful grown children (daughter, Ashley, 28 and son, Patrick, 26) and a step son (Justin, 28) who has given us two beautiful grandbabies (age 23 months and 34 months). My husband, Bill, and I have been married 8 years on March 5th. He is a volunteer fireman and the most kind, sensitive loving husband. My parents are still alive at age 90 and 91 and are in fair health. My mother still likes to go and get her manicures done and eyebrows waxed. My sister lives with parents to help care for them and her husband died of colon cancer about 6 years ago. My favorite hobby is traveling to new and different places and when I retire my dream is to be on the beach daily.
Only other cancer in immediate family is my father had prostate cancer in 1995 and underwent radiation and chemo. I had no real symptoms of colon cancer or at least didn’t think I did. I had intermittent diarrhea and constipation which had no rhyme or reason. I thought it was just irritable bowel. I had rare bleeding but usually at the end of bad constipation or prolonged diarrhea. But looking back I did have “skinny stools” but that didn’t mean anything to me. I had a routine colonoscopy only to keep my PCP (Dr. Michelle Neal) happy and from discharging me from her practice for noncompliance.
After the colonoscopy I remember Dr. Ward (GI Doc) saying that I had something in the lower colon that would require a colon resection and they had sent it off for biopsy. The word cancer wasn’t said and I didn’t grasp the meaning of it all until I was given a copy of the colonoscopy report and the words “malignant appearing” was glaring in front of my eyes. Three days later Dr. Ward called me himself to tell me the biopsy came back positive for Stage 3 colorectal cancer, and then told me the next steps.
The words numb, shock, disbelief were just the a few ways to describe my thoughts and feelings. I don’t think crying even entered my mind at that time. I just remember calling my husband to inform him. Then I posted it on Facebook and called my son. I didn’t think that before I got to contact my daughter she would see it on Facebook. What a way for anybody to have to find out about a loved one having cancer. That was not the way I intended for her to find out and regret it to this day. Everything for the next few days became kind of a robotic like and like living in a fog. I did have the presence of mind to call my PCP office and ask for something to help me cope with this new information and was given a script for anti-anxiety medication.
While I was going through my cancer treatment, everybody sensed something had changed in me, even my Dalmatian named Domino. I would be home by myself during the day and there would be times the fool dog would start barking nonstop at me and I would get mad at him because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. I would have to stop whatever I was doing and just rest before he would stop barking. I finally figured it was his way of letting me know it was time to rest and regain some energy and strength. When I would lie down then he would lay quietly beside me.
My husband told me all he wanted for Christmas a year ago was for me to be cured of cancer and healthy again. Bill’s way of coping was to be silly and get me to laughing. It usually worked. My son, Patrick, lives in DC area and at Christmas that year he came home and stayed about a month. That was the best present ever. My friend Lorna came and spent the holiday with us also. And my sweet daughter Ashley had several of her friends come over on Christmas Day to join us in celebrating the day. The noise and hub bub going on was the best medicine and gave me probably the best Christmas ever. I was in the middle of the radiation and chemo treatment and the effects were just starting to show up but I was able to enjoy that day with the biggest smile on my face and joy in my heart.
One of my best friends named Carma, lives in Kansas and she is a very sensitive person and I know she was devastated when she found out. In February of 2011 her daughter drove her down from Kansas to Memphis for the weekend. I can just remember how she reacted when she first saw me and said I didn’t look sick. This was funny to me but I understood. I reminded her that I was pleasantly plump before I got diagnosed and so losing weight would not shrivel me up. I had plenty of plump to keep the wrinkles away.
I think the hardest part of all the treatment from radiation to chemo to surgery was the having an ileostomy. I used to be a home health nurse and taught many patients how to care for an ostomy. But I remember always saying I would never never never ever have an ostomy. I guess I ate those words on March 3, 2011 when I had my surgery and the ostomy. In the hospital I would not touch the ostomy even though I really knew what to do. I didn’t start dealing with it until the ostomy nurse came in and made me start doing things with it. Oh yea, I named my ileostomy on the second day after surgery; it was musical but I said it had no sense of rhythm. But due to it wanting to continue being musical I named the “thing” Elvis, because I wanted Elvis to “leave the building” and “Return to Sender” (Like his song). Elvis became known to my surgeon, my oncologist and my PCP by that name and all my family members knew when I said I had to go deal with Elvis what that meant. What I learned from having the ostomy though is that anybody can adapt to anything that happens. Elvis became a routine part of my life for almost 6 months before he truly left the building. I even sang on the way to surgery “Return to Sender”.
Everybody copes and deals with traumatic events, pain and hurt in different ways. But with cancer treatment always remember you are never alone in your journey. There is always someone who can help you deal, adjust and accept things. If it is questions, pain, nausea, vomiting, bowel issues, ileostomy/colostomy, emotional issues/depression, neuropathy, transportation and even financial there is help from your doctors, nurses, social workers, cancer groups, American Cancer Society, online support groups, churches, friends and family there who can and will help you through it.
My coping method through all my treatment was to try to stay positive and laugh often and much. There were times I wanted to cry and did cry, but I would always look around me and see others in much worse shape than I was and know I was blessed.
I was declared NED/cancer free/in remission on August 15, 2011 and that was the happiest day of my life and I thought life was going to be wonderful and happy and full of only good things after that. However, at the end of October, I had a full blown depression which caused me to question my desire to live and why I couldn’t laugh anymore.
I underwent psychiatric evaluation, and through the support of groups and family, I was able to regain the perspective that there is life out there to live and people who love and need me. I leaned on my faith, family and friends for support on my down days. I also had so much support from my Facebook family and reconnecting with old classmates and friends. Nobody knows what you are going through except those that have been there themselves. BUT that doesn’t mean those who don’t know don’t care. They are trying to understand and be helpful in the ways they can, even if it is “wrong” I wouldn’t get mad or upset but just would thank them for their care.
The one I credit for saving my life is first and foremost is God. But I also credit my Primary Care Physician; Dr. Michelle Neal for intimidating me enough to get my colonoscopy done. She is my angel!
During my appointments with my colorectal surgeon, Dr. Justin Monroe, I shared my desire to start a 5K in our community. He suggested that I work with GYRIG as it worked with early awareness and screenings. Shortly after that, I was able to get in touch with Carrie Heuer, and on March 31st we will be having our first annual event in Memphis. It is so exciting to see this being brought here.
I have felt since my diagnosis that I was supposed to do something with my cancer diagnosis, treatment and remission and GYRIG is the exact platform to do that. My goal for 2012 is to attend several GYRIG 5K events in other cities if possible. Not sure if walking them will be possible with the neuropathy in my feet still persisting but would like to be there to cheer others on in their help in this fighting CRC.