I am 57 years young, husband (34 years), father (two sons, 30 and 32 years), friend, surf instructor and 26 year colon cancer survivor and ostomate. I am an advocate for cancer survivors and my passion is connecting with newly diagnosed cancer survivors to make their journeys less anxious and more hope-filled.
I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC rectal cancer in March 1986 and was under the knife within eight days. Surgery removed a softball sized tumor attached to my rectum and required a permanent colostomy. I received six weeks of radiation treatments, but no chemo. I have been cancer free for 26 years.
There was not history of cancer in my family when I was diagnosed in 1986, but since then my sister has passed from breast cancer.
The effects on me range from taking a physical beating through treatment and recovery. I think it was harder on my wife and family, having to stand by and watch me go through all that I did and not knowing what to do to help. But they did! Their love and support made a world of difference and combined with my absolute belief that I would be victorious and by the grace of God, I was healed.
During the chaos of diagnosis and making treatment choices, frequently the concern for long term side effects of treatment are not addressed. There is a rush to cut it out, radiate it, kill it with chemicals and more. But all these things can take a toll on us. I was young and in relatively good physical condition when my body was subjected to all of this. But still, I have struggled with ED, bladder dysfunction, and neuropathy. I have learned to manage my ostomy without any limitations to my activities including intimacy with my wife. As she says, all of the side effects of treatment are still way better than the alternative…being dead!
I accepted my New Normal about 5 years after surgery for Stage III rectal cancer that required a permanent colostomy. I was 35 years old had two young sons and a beautiful, supportive wife. It was at that point that I bounced from bitter to better. It wasn’t any big lightning bolt event. I just missed doing the fun and active things I had enjoyed before the cancer. I took up surfing with my sons and began charging forward like there was no tomorrow, because we had learned that there may not be.
Don’t play the victim, there is no value in wasting today thinking about yesterday. Giving back to the cancer survivor community really helps me. I feel good when others feel better.
When I hear “get your rear in gear” I think about moving forward with a positive attitude toward tomorrow, even if I have some challenges today.