I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in September, 2003. I had gone to my OBGYN for a regular checkup on September 25, 2003. In the middle of my doctor telling me that I was very healthy he found what he thought was a mass. He sent me to a surgeon the next day for another examination. The surgeon told me that he was sure that the mass was cancerous and that I would probably wear a permanent colostomy for the rest of my life. I was 49 years old. I had never been majorly ill and I was devastated.
I took home as much information as I could about colorectal cancer, prayed for guidance and told my family, friends and coworkers. Everyone was very supportive and we decided to put up a fight against this thing called cancer. I believe in the power of prayer and within a week my brother’s sister-in-law passed on to him the name of a new colorectal surgeon in the Norfolk, VA area. My brother convinced me to go to him for a second opinion. I took his advice and really liked what the surgeon had to say.
I came back to NC had a port put in and started five weeks of chemo and five weeks of radiation to help shrink the tumor before the surgeon scheduled my surgery to remove the tumor. It was hoped that this treatment would save the sphincter and may allow me not to wear a permanent colostomy.
I worked every day and kept a positive attitude. I said I was in a “win win” situation and that “attitude is half the battle”. I really believed that. I left every day around eleven o’clock for radiation treatments. That was hard! I had to drop my pants to my knees and lay on my tummy every day with my cheeks exposed!! Many a day the nurse would gently say “relax those cheeks honey.” I learned to take a mild prescribed sedative and listen to Aretha Franklin during radiation treatments and I had no problem relaxing.
I was sick to my stomach during those weeks but I really got sick the first week of December. I took a leave of absence from my part time job, but still worked my full time job at an elementary school. I only had two weeks before Christmas break and my surgery was scheduled for January 9, 2004 in Norfolk, VA. We kept everything extra clean and sprayed a lot of disinfectant spray for two weeks.
The tumor was removed January 9, 2004 and I had to wear an ileostomy for sixteen weeks. I also had to go through four more weeks of chemotherapy and ten more radiation treatments. I lived with my brother and his family for six months. My children and granddaughters, and other family visited me in VA during this time. I could not have asked for a more loving family and support group in friends and co-workers while I was recovering and going through treatments.
I received a lot of love. I had a lot of people and groups praying for my recovery. I had a wonderful surgeon and oncologist. I had a lot of good laughs together with my family. It was a very dear and close time for us all.
In May I had the ileostomy reversed and began recovering from that. I have been cancer free for almost nine and a half years. I fell and broke my arm and fractured my shoulder in December, 2004. Chemo is not nice to the bones.
In 2008 I had a total hip replacement to my right hip and in 2012 I had a total hip replacement on my left hip. Radiation to the pelvic area did not help the arthritis I had in my hip joints. In 2010 I had a small bowel blockage around the area where my ileostomy was, but cancer has not shown itself around me again.
Early detection and regular checkups are so very important to EVERYONE. If I had not gone to the doctor for my yearly checkup I may not be here to tell this story. It has also made every one of my siblings have a colonoscopy before the age of fifty.
Someone asked me if this whole experience changed my perspective on life. I believe it surely deepened my perspective on life. It made me look at people for a long period and wonder if they were sick and did not know it. It made me wonder what it was I was supposed to do because I survived. I know now. I am supposed to make people aware of how to prevent this. I am supposed to support someone when they are going through this and I am supposed to fight, fight, fight for a better tomorrow.
This past Saturday, March 16, 2013 I walked in a Get Your Rear in Gear 5K in Hickory, NC. I had rallied a team of walkers and runners who were anywhere from five years old to over 60 years old. I do believe in early detection of colon cancer saving lives and we worked hard to raise money for the Colon Cancer Coalition. I also worked hard at just walking this walk. The last hill I climbed was most symbolic because as I topped the hill and turned to the finish line (in last place) I heard the crowd chanting my name and saw people waving to me and clapping for me. It was almost as if they were not only cheering for me to finish the race but they were cheering for what I had already won. I plan to work hard for this cause and applaud anyone who becomes involved in it.
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You did it grandma. Even if during the race you finished in last place, you finished in first. I have never met a warrior like you!!
Carla, you are an awesome inspiration to us all!!
We all love you ! Your story made me cry ! Carla you are one of the strongest positive woman I’ve ever met ! You always have a smile and most up lifting attitude. it is truly up lifting for us all ! I’m so thankful you are healthy again. You have become a second grandma for Sarah and she dearly loves you ! Thank you for taking her under your wing !
I was not aware of all you have been through. You are truly an inspiration. May God bless you always
Love you Carla,