I hadn’t been feeling like myself for awhile. I was constipated and my hair and nails were dry and brittle. Plus my elbows hurt, but because I was 50, and my good health habits, I attributed it all to menopause. To complicate matters, my husband had taken a job abroad and we were already living in Groningen, Netherlands with Dutch health insurance. I did go to the doctor in the Netherlands, but my check-up was normal. They did blood work, which came back fine, and also attributed it to menopause. I asked if they had medication to help with the menopause transition but they said it was best if I didn’t take anything. That’s when we had been living there for about 1-2 years, so I thought I’d get completely checked out when we move back to the states.
With my 15-year medical history of being a clinical laboratory scientist I knew about colon cancer, but had no personal history or connection. I was on a visit back to the USA in July 2017 helping my son rearrange some furniture, when I noticed that I was ridiculously out of breath and it took me about 30 minutes to recover. Then I started noticing that if I went up a flight of stairs, I needed to sit down for a minute and catch my breath.
Another visit in September, I went hiking with my older son. We had hiked the same path the year before, with no problems. The first part of the hike goes straight up, and as soon as we got to the top, I had to lay down in the weeds. I almost thought we would have to call an ambulance. I laid there long enough to feel better to get back down to the car, but that’s when I knew this wasn’t normal. I still thought it was menopause and didn’t think about cancer being a possibility. We decided that we would move back stateside and see what was going on.
My husband put in a request to be transferred back to the states that September, but it took awhile for the request to go through. We didn’t move back until Thanksgiving, but since it was the holidays, I thought I’d put off my hospital visits until January. It was really bad but I got through the holidays.
In January 2018, I went to see a menopause specialist who found the reason for my low energy and caught my anemia. After testing my blood, I found out I had a hemoglobin of 6.6! The menopause specialist still didn’t think anything of the discovery and assumed it was mercury poisoning and that I might have eaten too much fish while living abroad. It wasn’t until I went to my OBGYN when he knew it was something serious and got me to see a hematologist. The appointment with the hematologist never happened because I had already scheduled my own colonoscopy because I was 51.
My colonoscopy on Feb. 5 resulted in discovering a tumor in the ascending colon. My reaction was actually pretty cool, calm, and collected. I had been feeling so low energy and after I found out about my hemoglobin, I had looked into possible causes and I only matched with one symptom of colon cancer, so I thought, “Well at least it won’t be that, but we need to find out what it is.” I wasn’t shocked after my colonoscopy. Oddly enough, both my sons initially had wanted me to get checked before I actually did because they were both worried that I had cancer because of my low energy. I thought they were being ridiculous because I was active and healthy. Turns out they were both right. Although both my sons were not shocked, my husband was.
I had a right hemicolectomy on March 1 and chemotherapy started on April 9. I was rated a 3C with seven out of 28 lymph nodes being cancerous. Scary stuff. I finished chemo in late September 2018. During a follow up CT scan in November, a spot was found on my liver. I had to wait until Jan. 24, 2019 to find out if it had grown. I had one symptom, no risk factors and was already doing everything on the preventative list.
I moved to Nashville, TN in January 2019. When we were transferred back from Europe we were transferred to Nashville, but still had a condo in St. Louis where we had lived for almost 30 years, and where our two boys still live. I chose to stay in St. Louis and receive treatment, so my husband was commuting back and forth from Nashville to St. Louis. My husband and I now live in Nashville full time since the chemo ended.
Since moving to Nashville in January, I started a program called “Survivor Fitness.” It is a nonprofit started by a man named Aaron Grunke who is a testicular cancer survivor. It is a 12 week program. I work with a personal trainer twice a week and also meet with a nutritionist. It has been such a wonderful thing for me!!! I have exercised all my life and was active and healthy before cancer, but wasn’t sure how I was going to get my strength back after the chemo and not doing much more than walking for about 18 months. I also started going to Gilda’s Club and meeting with a CRC group twice a month. On top of all my “cancer” activities, I am also volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank and involved with Nashville Newcomers.
I’ve been NED since September. The doctor did have me visit every three months because there were spots on my liver that were following, but have not grown after two scans. He thought they weren’t cancerous, but still wanted to keep an eye on them. After Easter, I was told to come in every six months. I worry that the cancer will come back, especially since I was 3C but mostly don’t think about it too much unless it is getting to be “scan time” again. I am feeling pretty good. I would not say great but I am able to do most everything I want to do and getting stronger every day! Now I know, taking care of yourself does not prevent cancer. It just makes your life better while you are living it. It has been a process, learning to let go of what I cannot control and live in the moment, but I am slowly getting there!