My name is Penne Campbell. I live outside of Memphis, TN, and work for a large hospital system in Memphis. We have three children, and one grandson. I am so fortunate that my 84 and 88-year-old parents are still living. I am the baby of the family with two older brothers. I was always the healthy one in our family – the glue that held everyone together.
No one in our family has ever had cancer, much less colon cancer. I had never been sick a day in my life until February of 2012, at which time we were vacationing in Mexico, and I got some crazy “stomach virus” one night, that I thought I had gotten from something I had ate that night. I was better the next day, but each day after that it seemed that things were just not right.
I went to the doctor about three weeks later and told him that I knew I was fine, but that my cousin had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and her only symptom was pain in her side. I told him that “I felt like I had a pulled muscle in my side, but I had not done anything to pull the muscles.” Of course, I knew that everything was fine. I was healthy!” I was so sad about my cousin. I really thought “Why am I going to the doctor?” I really don’t know when I would have finally gone to the doctor, had it not been for her.
The doctor ran a blood test, and told me that my blood count was extremely low – – about like a car running on only half the required oil. A gastrographen x-ray showed a large apple core size tumor. My doctor called within about 10 minutes after the test was completed from his cell phone – it hit me when I heard his voice that things were serious.
The following day a colonoscopy was done to biopsy the tumor and know where we stood. Because of the size of the tumor, and the almost complete blockage, surgery was scheduled for the next week.
A left hemicolectomy was done, with removal of a tube, ovary and wedge from my liver. Twenty lymph nodes were removed, with 15 being positive. The tumor was the size of a tennis ball, and had attached to the muscle in my side (causing the sensation of a pulled muscle in my side). I started chemo on May 1, with 12 rounds ending in October. Scans done in January 2013, three months after finishing chemo, show more positive lymph nodes in the chest and around the abdominal aorta. I started back on chemo two weeks ago, to do six rounds this time.
Everything was happening so fast in the beginning, but I felt compelled to meet my oncologist before my surgery. I didn’t want some doctor to come into see me, that I was going to have for the rest of my life, and me not meet him beforehand. I was determined that we had to be on the same page about my future treatment and my expectations. I knew that whoever walked in my room would be my forever friend, so I had to like them. The afternoon before my surgery, we made some phone calls and this doctor that I was interested in seeing agreed to stay late to see me. I walked in and told him that I wanted him to see me as the vibrant person that I truly was, not some sick person that had just had major surgery – not a true picture of who I am. I told him that I needed 40 more years, and that if he didn’t think we could accomplish that or at least try until all efforts had been exhausted, then I needed to continue my search. From that moment on I knew I was in the right place. I love him, his nurses, his chemo nurses and everyone at the office. His office is next door to the hospital that I work at, and almost every day you can see me at his office stopping by to see patients in the chemo room that I either know from my hometown or people that I have met on this journey! Sometimes I don’t know who gets more of a blessing out of my visits, the people that I am going to see or me!
The thing that I want people to know is that if you have a doctor that you don’t feel comfortable with, you are not stuck with them. Go find another doctor – it is your health, and you must be proactive. I had a colonoscopy about eight years before my journey, and I did not like the physician. I think that is why it took me so long to seek treatment this time. I did find a different GI doctor, which I also love. He in turn led me to my surgeon, who I adore. I know I have been blessed with THE BEST! My advice is for you to continue to search until you find the right doctors, because you will basically be married to them for the rest of your life!
The love and support that I have been shown during my illness has been unbelievable. I could never have imagined how my friends, family and co-workers would rally around me. I have an aunt that is 80, and she would meet me at chemo, just to sit and talk. My friends took turns staying with me in the hospital, and then sitting with me at chemo. Between the surgery and when chemo started, my friends gave me a huge party – 50 year old Birthday Party / Time to get Healthy Party. My daughter made the cake that had a zebra striped bra on it and said “Penne’s 50, let’s give her some support”. That was probably the best night of my life – surrounded by family and friends, celebrating the start to good health.
I am probably the happiest person you could ever meet, but occasionally I am sad. I will be fine no matter what. I just hope I have taught my children everything they need to know. I hope I can leave them with happy thoughts, and good memories of the wonderful life we have shared.
My words of wisdom to others would be to keep a diary. I wrote every day of the feelings I was having, the friend’s calls and visits, the cards I received, etc. I now read my diary from time to time, and I cannot believe the strength I had. I hope my children can read my diary someday, and it gives them a little piece of me to hold on to.
I was able to return to work quickly and that was probably one of the best things that could have happened for me. My surgeon knew me, and knew that being around people would be the best medicine for me, so he allowed me to return to work, quicker than usual. I continued to work during the chemo. There were days that I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, but I was not a quitter, and I refused to let the illness slow me down.
It will be a year ago on March 20, 2013, when this journey began. By the Grace of God, and the support of the people that he put in my life, I am more alive than I have ever been. My hope is that I can bring awareness to this disease, and if one person can be diagnosed earlier because of me, it will be worth it all.
This disease saved me and for that I am thankful!!