I am an active 41-year-old woman, wife, and full time mom to three children under the age of 11. I am a face of colon cancer. Over the summer of 2012, I began to have pain in my left abdomen and bowel changes. I hadn’t been to an actual doctor in years – I even had all 3 children with midwives and no pain medication. Assuming it was hormonal, I went in to the doctor for a check up. The ultrasound showed a burst ovarian cyst, so we assumed that was the source of pain. But it continued. I had a CT that showed an enlarged kidney, so I was sent for another. This one showed mild thickening of the sigmoid colon. I was then sent for a colonoscopy.
On August 23, 2012 the GI doctor was unable to complete the colonoscopy because of a mass blocking almost my entire colon. Path results came back positive – I had colon cancer. There was no history of cancer in my family. On August 27, I went into surgery to have the tumor removed. I woke up to the news that I had colostomy and an extensive spread in the peritoneum, meaning I had Stage IV colon cancer. My husband was told I had 2 years to live, 5 if I was lucky. My mother-in-law quit her job that day and has made helping our family a full time job.
The effects on my family are the hardest part of this disease for me. I am pretty tough and accept what comes at me, but seeing my family hurt is horrible. My husband had to tell my children I had cancer. When our then 9-year-old son asked if people died of this he answered honestly saying yes, they do, but we were going to do everything possible to help me fight. Initially, my husband looked like someone else. His face was filled with stress, worry, anger, sadness…. He carries such a heavy burden wondering how he could handle raising our children alone. My mother, 70 at my diagnosis, suddenly had a husband with stage IV prostate cancer (not my biological father) and a daughter with stage IV colon cancer.
The day after my initial surgery, my oncologist referred us to some doctors at Wake Forest Cancer Center. I began chemotherapy in October once I was healed from the original surgery. By then I had accepted the colostomy, which I first refused to look at or acknowledge. I realized it relieved me of the pain I had been in. On February 13, 2013, I underwent a 14-hour, potentially life saving HIPEC with cytoreductive surgery at Wake Forest with Dr Perry Shen. When I had my big surgery, I left knowing it was possible I would never return. My 7 year old literally had to be pulled from my arms as I dropped her off at school. I know she knew, too, how serious the surgery was. The surgery removed all visible cancer from my body. Thankfully, 7 days later I walked out of the hospital and went home to my children.
By June I had completed an additional 4 rounds of chemotherapy and both my tumor marker and scans showed no sign of cancer. I enjoyed a fabulous summer with my family and felt terrific. Then at my 6-month follow up appointment, I received the news that cancer was once again on the move. I had small spots in 3 locations and an elevated tumor marker. After our wonderful summer, my children were crushed to see the chemo return. My 4 year old sobbed and sobbed when she came home and saw the chemo pump attached to me. Later she “read” me a story where everyone was dead and in Heaven. Clearly she is not too young to comprehend.
So back on chemo I went with the hopes I will be eligible for another surgery. After an additional 10 rounds of chemo, I am eligible! The surgery is scheduled for February 27th and we are so excited. It is a crazy world I live in that major surgery is a cause for celebration. I do the chemo, I do acupuncture, I take supplements, I exercise and eat as healthy as possible. I know I cannot control everything, but I do my best with what I can. I am determined to live, to guide my children as they grow. Until I hear the words “there is nothing else that can be done” from more than one doctor, I will continue to fight. I live a full, wonderful life and cancer is just one part of it. I have so much to live for!
So don’t sit back and let cancer happen to you. Be informed. Ask questions. Fight for more research. Demand a search for the cure – for all of us fighting and so that others don’t have to do this. Parents are dying, leaving young children behind. Young adults are losing the ability to have children. It is time for this to stop. Check what is happening with your body. If you have a family history, get checked early. If not, start right at 50. Do not ignore pain or changes in bowel habits. And if you are diagnosed, do ignore statistics.
Ignore statistics, but be informed. Do your own research. Talk to multiple doctors. Keep copies of EVERYTHING in a binder. Get the best doctors and physicians you can find. Likewise, make sure the hospital sees many similar cases so the nurses and staff are familiar with what you are going through. Have support – not just your families and friends but other cancer warriors. There are wonderful online communities where you can get information and support. It is often easier to discuss emotional and technical aspects of the cancer journey with others in the same fight. Be prepared that some people, maybe ones you wouldn’t expect, will rally behind you. Others will distance themselves. And others will look at you with sympathy/horror as if you were dying the next day. Learn to take none of it personally. Do not let cancer rule your life. Keep living. Keep fighting. Cancer clears your perspective and shows what is really important. Let little stuff go, don’t stress and find joy as often as you can.