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Faces of Blue: Janel Gunderson

Several years ago, I started having small amounts of blood in my stool. “Nothing to worry about,” is what I was told by my doctors. I was young, healthy and had two large babies, now 7 and 9 years old, so they said it was probably just hemorrhoids. Later on, I started having pain in my abdomen after I ate. “It is probably IBS, which can be triggered by stress. You have a lot on your plate right now and you are young and healthy,” is what I was told. My symptoms persisted and a third doctor said I that I was probably lactose intolerant and was informed of the different foods that I should avoid.

By this point I was starting to pass larger amounts of blood and had some pretty intense pain after eating, so I went to a naturopath and nutritionist to try to get some help. Finally, my aunt told me about a doctor that she went to. I went to see her for a check up and she said that if I was loosing as much blood as I said, then I should be severely anemic. She made me feel like I was exaggerating but did refer me to a gastroenterologist. During my consult with the gastroenterologist, he told Janel Gundersonme that he didn’t think I had cancer or anything serious like that because I was too young and I just didn’t have the risk factors. I had a second cousin and uncle who died of colon cancer.

On December 20th, 2012, I was working full time as a dental assistant and I had just finished my third quarter of anatomy and physiology. I had one class left to complete before I entered a registered nursing program at a local college. Unfortunately my dreams were put on hold when I finally underwent my colonoscopy at the gastroenterologist. When I woke up, the mood was very somber. I was told to get dressed and I meet in the consult room. It was there that the doctor told me that I had cancer, and his guess was that it had been there for about 5 years. When I heard that, it stopped me in my tracks.

Following my diagnosis, I had CT scans and consults. I had surgery to remove 12 inches of my sigmoid colon on January 16th, 2013, and my port placed on February 6th. I started 6 months of FOLFOX chemo five days after that. 6 out of 40 lymph nodes were positive for cancer, but as far as they could tell, my cancer had not spread to my liver. I was diagnosed at stage IIIC. I had my first CT a few cycles into chemo and was told by my oncologist that I had some suspicious spots on my lungs that we would follow.

At the end of June 2013, my husband and I were given the opportunity to travel to Chicago for a consult with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. It was a wonderful trip for my husband and I, but I did not feel like I got any more answers from them than I got from my doctors here in Portland, Oregon. I was told that the spots on my lungs were most likely not cancer. They recommended an additional 6 months of chemo to make sure… I got another opinion when I got home and went with the majority 2/3 oncologists that said no more chemo was recommended.

I finished chemo on July 18th, 2013 and cried because I thought that was the end of the hard part of my journey. Wrong. Chemo turned out to be harder to bounce back from than I thought it would be. I was tired, weak, had “chemo brain” and the worst side effect still lingered: severe neuropathy in my hands and feet. At first I tripped over things that didn’t exist and I had a hard time with my balance. I have grown accustomed to not feeling my feet, but my hands are a different story. I work with my hands. It’s not an easy task and is very frustrating at times, but it’s something I have learned to live with. I will not give cancer a single victory over my body.

Janel GundersonOn December 19th, a routine check up found that one of the spots on my lungs had started to grow. A PET scan confirmed cancer and I was referred to a cardio-thoracic surgeon. On January 15th, I had surgery to remove part of the upper left lobe of my lung, landing me in the hospital for 6 days. It has been three weeks since surgery and I am slowly returning to life. I am happy. I love and am loved. I am thankful. I am blessed. I am hopeful that this is the last of my cancer hurdles.

My advice to you is to stay hopeful; don’t give up. I know it is hard when you’re healthy mentally and not physically, but it’s SO important to try. One thing I teach my kids is to not just talk about the bad things that cancer has done to us, but to talk about the good, too! I ask my 9-year-old son what good has come from cancer and he told me that I am home more now and he likes that gets to play more video games when I get chemo. My 7-year-old daughter told me that she likes when people bring us desserts and she likes that I am home to snuggle with her and do her hair in the morning. By teaching my kids to see the positive in every situation, even the bad ones, I am hopefully teaching them to learn a lesson from every experience they have.

To me, Get Your Rear in Gear means to take control of your own health. It also means to bring awareness to this disease. I know that I will be a strong advocate and a voice for awareness!

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Mariannema says:

    This is my story…same age, two youngest children the same age, plus 14, 19 yr old….it was 1995 and I am still here! Helping my daughter raise her beautiful 3 year old. I have my 11 yr grandson every summer. My children now grown still ask questions about what I went through because they were so young. Sometimes we laugh till tears run down our cheeks when they imitate me trying to talk with all the sores in my mouth from chemo. My son didn’t understand why my mouth was effected when he knew I had colorectal cancer! #1 thing I learned is you and your husband have to be strong advocates for you…don’t just take every Dr.’s word as gospel. If you don’t understand or believe what they are saying in your gut…keep researching. I had a very accomplished Dr tell me no chemo this month, we found a inoperable tumor in your spine. Go home and make your final plans..she was crying. Within 2 days my husband had me at Washington Hospital Center in DC and a few days later at Sloan Kettering in NY…it was scar tissue from my radiation treatments she was seeing and not a tumor. If I had gone home ..I would not be here today. She just put too much faith into the tests, didn’t bother to do a biopsy and I could have paid the price for her assuming things. Be strong, be aggressive and enjoy everyday you have. God bless you!

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