This road in my life started in August 2011 when I went in for my first ever-routine colonoscopy at the age of 57. When I came to, my husband, William, informed me the doctor had removed one polyp but there were two imbedded in the wall of my colon. They both happened to be in the same general area and each were about 3″ in length. I guess I was too naive to ever think they might be tumors, as Dr. Kerner never suggested that might be a possibility. The next step was surgery. Not something I wanted to hear. Dr. Kerner wanted to do surgery in the next couple of weeks.
At that time I owned my own business. It was typically closed for the winter but after talking with Dr. Kerner we decided surgery could be done the first week in October. This would allow me to get things wrapped up in the shop and close at the end of September instead of October. It would also allow me to help with a final fishing tournament for the year scheduled the last weekend in September.
My husband, William, and I arrived at the scheduled time for surgery early Thursday morning, October 6th, 2011. I tried to be positive but cried as the nurse walked me back to the surgery prep area. Dr. Kerner removed 6-8″ of my ascending colon and reattached, after I spent the next four days in the hospital.
When I awoke later after surgery, I remember my husband and one of my daughters, Kim, there for me. I apologize if there was anyone else because I don’t remember. The next days were no fun at all, pretty miserable to be honest. I just wanted to go home, you could never get any rest in the hospital. I remember when my oldest daughter, Tammy, came to visit one evening with her twin daughters, Sarah and Rachel. They were walking the hall with me. I kept burping and they thought it was funny. I guess they never heard Grandma burp before. By this time, they have probably heard me burp so much they don’t “hear” it anymore!
On Monday, October 11th, 2011, Dr. Kerner came in to inform me that one of the lymph nodes came back as cancerous and said something about chemo…. I didn’t really comprehend what he was saying. It seemed like a big cloud of fog around me. Thankfully, Dr.Kerner came back once my husband arrived to take me home. Once I heard Dr. Kerner say it all again, it sank in. COLON CANCER! SIX MONTHS CHEMO RECOMMENDED!!! I thought how do I tell my Mother? How do I tell my Father? We had to call the kids first. Tammy, her husband, Terry, and Kim came straight to the hospital. The youngest, Jennifer, lived in North Carolina and had been waiting for my release from the hospital. She was on her way and expected around early afternoon.
I remember this was not something that I could tell my Mother over the phone. I asked my brother, Rick, to go to her house and let her know what was going on. The word spread fast. My mom called once I got home and we talked. She let me know that my youngest sister, Barb, was on her way to my house and she was very upset with the news. Barb arrived in tears just before Jennifer arrived from North Carolina. Of course, Jennifer had not heard the news because we decided it would be better to tell her once she got here. We had to ask Barb to go to another room or outside until we had a chance to tell Jennifer. Then my Dad arrived, as he knew I was coming home that day. He looked numb when we told him the news.
My Aunt Sally, who lived in Missouri, was the only other person we know of in the family to be diagnosed with colon cancer. She was 77 years of age at the time of her diagnosis. She refused chemo and the cancer reared its ugly head once again. After a few surgeries to remover parts of her liver, the cancer eventually spread to her lungs. She opted for chemo treatments to extend her life. She fought the battle but we lost her just short of her 81st birthday in 2013.
For me, the next step was chemo. I chose to go the Mark H Zangmeister Center to receive treatment. My oncologist is Dr. Mark Thompson. The center and Dr. Thompson received us well. He was very personable and down to earth. When I say “us” that includes our daughters. They went to several of the first visits to learn as much as they could about treatment, what would happen if I didn’t have treatment, and what to expect from treatments. Thankfully Dr. Thompson answered their questions honestly. When all information was delivered and received, chemo was elected. Dr. Thompson wanted me to get a little more rest before we started treatment. First things first were to have a port put in….. surgery #2, November 3rd, 2011.
Chemo started November 15th, 2011. I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, I cried. But I had the broad shoulders of my husband to carry me through. I was on the fulfox treatment. It seemed like FOREVER to be infused. Then I would go home with a pump for 48 hours. The nurses were great. Kim came and sat with my husband for the duration of my treatment. In fact, she came to just about every single treatment and stayed with me once I got home when William could not be there. She works from home on her computer so she could basically work while she was there…. SWEET!
The first treatment didn’t go well. Right about dinnertime, the alarm on the pump kept going off. The doctor ended up telling me to just shut it off and to come in the next morning to have the pump removed; I guess my port was clogged. The second treatment seemed to go without any problems.
Third treatment…fourth treatment…. both had problems. Both times at about 7:30 in the evening, I would get the chills, start running a fever as high as 103, nose would start running, I’d start a dry cough, just felt awful, couldn’t and didn’t function. This worried my husband to death. The first time there was fear that I had an infection at the port site. Soon they took an x-ray of my lungs to make sure there nothing going on there. After the second bad experience, I was found to be covered in a rash from head to toe. Dr. Thompson thought it was all an allergic reaction to the Oxaliplatin. I was rather disturbed to find this medication only contributed to about a 1% increase in the effectiveness of the treatment. It was also the most expensive of the meds. Once Dr. Thompson removed the Oxaliplatin from my treatments, the rest of the treatments were smooth sailing, but don’t get wrong, there were times I sort of felt like a zombie.
Several years prior, we had started having Sunday dinner with the family. The girls made sure that those continued during my treatments. We put a big jug of hand sanitizer and a small box of masks at the front door. Everyone was great about not bringing any sickness into the house. If any of them felt the slightest sniffle, a mask was put on as soon as they walked into the door without hesitation and they all hit the sanitizer.
And we had to joke and laugh about the whole cancer thing. I think this was our way of coping with the situation. Who in the world would want to “catch” cancer from their Mom?! After all, laughter is one of the best medicines and there was no sense in crying about it all the time. We all just tried to make the best of a bad situation.
One of the best tools for communication with family and friends was through a site called Caring Bridge. It enables you to write a journal of what is going on through your journey. The site notifies those you invite to view your journal when a new entry is made and allows them to comment on that entry if they wish. I thought this was one of the best means of communication. It saved me from making a ton of phone calls. It also made it easy on family and friends to not feel like they were “bothering” me. I would highly recommend this site to anyone. I recall writing in my journal one day about the pros of going through chemo! Most got a kick out of it.
Then the grandkids, just when you think they don’t really pay attention to what is going on or you think they just don’t want to be subject to the “bad” things, they shock you by asking questions. They were discretely keeping track of my chemo treatments (I had them marked on the calendar). One Sunday just before they were leaving, twins Sarah and Rachel (12 years old at the time) asked what happens when I went for a treatment. They appeared to listen closely as I explained the steps of the treatment.
My final chemo treatment began on April 24, 2012. The family surprised me at the Zangmiester with flowers, a balloon and a t-shirt that said, “I am stronger than cancer.” Jennifer even flew in from North Carolina. They stayed through to the end of my treatment. That final treatment came to an end on April 26th, 2012. It was strange because that day I heard Kelly Clarkson’s song, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”, not once but twice just on the way to have the pump disconnected. Needless to say, this has been the ringtone on my phone since!
Once again, the younger generation you thought didn’t pay attention or didn’t care pleasantly surprises you again. This time, Sarah and Rachel’s school was having “Hero Day”. Each student had to choose a person they considered their “hero”. Rachel chose and wrote about me! Students read their paper to the class and the class then chose the top 6…. 8…10, oh I don’t remember how many (chemo brain has really kicked in by now.) Those top students then invited their “hero” to the school where the student read their paper in front of the entire group. Again, I cried but was so very proud of Rachel and the paper she had written. She presented her paper to me as a beautifully framed keepsake and with a flower. No words could express how honored and proud I felt that day.
I had the port removed in May 2011, surgery #3. Overall, I couldn’t have had a better support group than my family and friends. I love each and every one of them very much. I know I have left quite a bit out or forgot but my daughters say I can claim “chemo brain” for as long as I want. So to this day is still smack myself on the forehead and say “chemo brain!”
On December 4th, 2014 I had my third routine post chemo CT Scan. I can now say I am a three-year Stage III colon cancer survivor. Look out year 5! I’m coming for you next!
Tammy, who is near and dear to my heart, has now taken on the responsibility as the local event coordinator for the upcoming inaugural Get Your Rear In Gear – Columbus 5k in Gahanna, Ohio on July 25th, 2015. I wish her much success and look forward to helping her achieve her goal with this project as well as participate since this is a project that is near and dear to my rear!