I was diagnosed with Stage III rectal cancer, signet ring cell type, in September 2007 at age 41. I underwent six weeks of chemo and radiation that fall and had surgery in January 2008. My tumor was very low in the rectum so everything was removed and I now have “Fred” my permanent colostomy.
I really have no issues with Fred, he is annoying sometimes, tends to be noisy in the worst situations (business meetings), and does not always cooperate but all-in-all I would rather have Fred than not be here to watch my kids grow up.
After surgery I did more chemo which ended in May 2008. Since then all of my scans, xrays, and colonoscopy have come back clear. I have moved on with my life and rarely think of cancer anymore.
What got me through it all? Family and friends were incredible, you have to open yourself up to people’s offers to help. Let someone else coordinate the requests if you can and say thank you often. Second, I decided (after two weeks of denial, anger, and grief) that I wanted another 50 years out of life, I was 41 at the time of diagnosis. So I sat down and visualized myself at my 91st birthday party, surrounded by my children, grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter as well as other family and friends. I was blowing out the candles and deciding which color jello shot I wanted next! I am still trying to find someone to “draw” my vision for me but even if it is never drawn, this vision I have in my head is real to me and has helped me to move on and not worry!
Through this experience I learned how much family and friends will do for you, as well as the people who were afraid of me and my condition. The nurses, radiation technicians, and doctors were all wonderful, they answered my questions and gave me hugs. My parents were incredible, they did everything to support me and their friends in turn supported them. My work colleagues were incredible, they sent me food, cards, gifts, and prayers. I have never experienced anything like it and it has made me so much more willing to offer support to others instead of being “scared” that I will say or do the wrong thing. Often I would read emails in the middle of the night and they would help me drag my butt to one more radiation treatment (that and my mother!). I was very depressed and quite convinced I was going to die. These people, family, friends, healthcare staff, made the difference, I lived because of them.
I am more conscious of what I eat. Although, I was pretty healthy and cognizant of how to be healthy. I did not exercise, something I really think was a factor, and I am determined to change that! Even before my diagnosis I was focusing on organic, natural products. I believe the typical American lifestyle contributes to the many illnesses we see today, what you put on your skin, in your home, and in your mouth really makes a difference. I am glad that being healthy is becoming more mainstream, now we just need to cut our portion sizes and we can solve many “ills” in this country.
Grief and anger, I was MAD! Why me, what did I do to deserve this! Plus a little embarrassment, I mean, who wants to talk about rectal cancer?? And too much internet research, it was scary to find out I have the most aggressive form of rectal cancer and to see the survival rates. For the first time in my life I decided less information was better for me. I stopped reading about it and focused on surviving.
Some advice for others – find something to focus on, my kids and my future 91st birthday helped me. Let yourself be mad and depressed, this really stinks and you will not be upbeat all of the time. Accept offers of help, people really do want to be there for you. It is okay to rest, do not push yourself too much, find small things to achieve each day, even if it just taking a shower.
When you are nauseous from treatments, eat what you can, eat as healthy as you can but follow your instincts. Your body will tell you what you need, I craved baked potatoes for weeks after my surgery and it turns out I was low on potassium. The body is designed to heal, let it tell you what you need.
Finally, live, laugh, love, I repeat this phrase to myself daily. Find a sense of humor, I named my colostomy “Fred”. I tell people I put my cancer behind me because it was a pain in the butt (get it? Rectal cancer?). Let go of anger and stress as soon as you realize it is getting to you. Take a deep breath, mediate, do yoga, find a way to relax. Love your family. Spend a few minutes each day (in the shower works for me) listing everything you are thankful for, every day!