I was a typical 32-year-old from Kansas City in the summer of 2009. I enjoyed my job as a nurse, had a great family and friends and had recently started dating a wonderful guy named David. Earlier that year I started having some strange symptoms, but I blew them off. Yes, I am a nurse, I should know better, especially because I have a very big family history of cancer. My paternal grandmother and my aunt both died of breast cancer. My uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer. My maternal grandfather had lung cancer. If I had been a patient calling, I would have said, “Get to your doctor and get it checked out!” But I figured it was probably nothing.
Finally, I had one episode that scared me enough to go to the doctor who ordered a colonoscopy. I was really scared because I think deep down I knew something was wrong. The day of my colonoscopy, I had a waiting room full of people. My parents, sisters, boyfriend and three of my closest friends were all there. I am sure the staff thought we were crazy! When I woke up from the test, my dad was there with me as the doctor told me that they had found a polyp and were sending it off for pathology. I was hysterical. I knew in my gut it was cancer. And now I had to wait through a whole weekend before I would get the results. When I got the phone call telling me, “I’m sorry, but your polyp was cancerous,” I was still shocked.
After I got the pathology results back, I knew I needed to talk to my boyfriend about everything. We had been together less than 6 months. I didn’t know at the time what laid ahead for me, and I wanted to give him an “out.” He didn’t sign up for this; maybe he didn’t want to have to deal with a 32-year-old girlfriend with cancer. I was not looking forward to the conversation; what woman wants to talk to her boyfriend about her colon? However, I was very lucky. David hugged me, cried with me and told me in no uncertain words that he would be with me every step of the way. He said, “I just found you. I am not letting you go now!” He also told me that he was going to marry me one day. He is a man who keeps his promises!
The next few days were a blur. I had to have additional tests to see if the cancer was anywhere else and made appointments to see a surgeon. Even though I work in a huge hospital with a big cancer program, this was all new to me. I was supposed to take care of patients, not be one. The surgeon told me that surgery was not necessary. Because the margins of the polyp were free of cancer, everything was gone. He said that there really wasn’t any benefit to me to take on the risks of the surgery. I was shocked but elated! However, a few days later, my GI doctor called to tell me that a different group of physicians had discussed my case at a conference and they still recommended the surgery. Now I was reeling. I was so confused because I was getting two completely opposite opinions.
I turned to a physician that I had worked with for years for guidance. He set up a meeting for me with one of the pathologists at the hospital who had reviewed the slides of my polyp. This physician was wonderful; he went through every slide with me and showed me exactly what he was seeing. Everything was coming together and was really put into perspective for me. After talking to him, I felt confident in my decision to not pursue the surgery. I would encourage any cancer patient to explore all options. Talk to as many people as you can! You have to make the decision that is right for you and it needs to be an informed decision.
In the end, I was incredibly lucky. I had a colonoscopy 6 months later and another one a year after that that were both clear. I will have to have colonoscopies every three years probably for the rest of my life, but that is a small price to pay. Unfortunately, my experience with colon cancer was only a stepping-stone for me. I was diagnosed 8 months ago with breast cancer. This time the disease was more advanced and therefore I had to do chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. I just finished my treatments and am ready to move on to keeping this cancer from coming back as well.
“Get Your Rear in Gear” to me means taking control of your life and your health, just like I am. I was lucky; my colon cancer experience was very minimal compared to what so many other patients have to face. But that doesn’t mean I can be lazy. I have to keep up with my follow-up exams. Getting my rear in gear means being proactive and making sure this horrid disease doesn’t get the chance to come back!
As a survivor, patient and nurse, my advice to you is to lean on the people around you! You are allowed to be angry, sad, mad, scared and frustrated. But guess what? Your family and friends are all feeling it, too. Talk to each other. Let people help you. Fighting cancer and beating it is one of the most difficult things you will face, but it is made a little easier knowing you are not going through it alone. My son is 19 months old. He watched me go through all my treatments with the glorious, innocent eyes of childhood. I look forward to the day when he is old enough to understand and I can tell him how his mommy beat cancer–twice!!