My name is Jessica and here is my story. I turned 33 in January of 2013. A month later, I found myself separated from my now ex-husband and was excited to begin a new chapter in my life. Little did I know that I would begin a new novel, instead of a new chapter!
I began having little short bursts of pain near my gallbladder, so I made an appointment with my primary care physician to see what the cause was. She suspected my gallbladder would need to be removed, so she sent me for an ultrasound. Thank goodness for going to a good ultrasound tech, as she must have seen something that wasn’t supposed to be near my rib cage and liver.
I had no previous symptoms that would have made me think it was a big issue. Apparently, I was wrong and made an appointment to see a GI doctor for a colonoscopy. After I woke up from the procedure, the doctor said that he thought I had colon cancer. Although, a biopsy of the tumor would tell us for sure. One week later, I met my oncologist for the first time. Around the same time, a port was placed on my right clavicle. I began chemo treatments within two weeks of my first colonoscopy.
Three months later, I didn’t feel good and my parents made a decision to take me to the emergency department (ED) at the hospital. I was admitted to the oncology floor. For several days, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The next thing I remember was signing living will paperwork as they rushed me down the hall into emergency surgery for a bowel perforation and sepsis. I woke up with about 14″ of my descending colon gone and an ostomy bag that I aptly named “Winnie the Pooh!” Almost exactly a year later, my ostomy bag was removed and I have not had any issues with eating the foods that I used to have.
We picked back up on chemo a couple of months later, along with direct radiation beads placed in my liver to see if the tumors would respond. Since my diagnosis, I have had 59 rounds of chemo combinations, including Oxaliplatin and Avastin. My CEA number has ranged from 2,358 down to 6.2, and fluctuates in magnitude sometimes. My liver is taking the price of the chemo which has landing me in the ED with hepatic encephalopathy, ascites, and portal hypertension. I am currently on two different protein medications to help my liver rid excess protein from my bloodstream, two different diuretics to help with the ascites, and a daily injection of a blood thinner to keep blood clots from forming.
Through it all, the more important thing I have done is to not take myself too seriously. Life is much more important than that.
A special message from Jessica’s mom, Donna Flanigin: Jessica fought her stage IV colon cancer for 4 years and 4 months with positivity, laughter and grace, continuing to work full time throughout her tumultuous journey. She has inspired so many with colon cancer and other chronic diseases to start each day with a smile and to share herself with friends, family and co-workers. She was not afraid to die, she was afraid to not live. And live she did! Two brain tumors popped up, and 10 hours before surgery she had a GI bleed which cancelled the procedure. She quietly slipped away over the next week, passing on August 18, 2017, tired at last. About ten minutes after she passed, I looked over at her and she was smiling. The smile grew bigger over the next ten minutes and I knew she was home. It was her gift to me.
Photographer Credits: Jason Crader PhotographyReturn To Faces Of Blue Learn More About Colon Cancer
Editor’s note: Jessica has participated in Get Your Rear in Gear events in both Dallas Fort Worth and Arkansas. She has also shared her story with Fox 16 in Little Rock – you can see that story below.Get Your Rear in Gear - Fort Worth Get Your Rear in Gear - Arkansas