May 2019 was supposed to be the beginning of my new life. I had just finished my doctoral studies in November 2018 and my graduation was on May 11. Since my birthday was in June I was planning an epic celebration but unfortunately my life changed dramatically on May 3, 2019 forever. During the month of April 2019 I had been experiencing some stomach issues which I attributed to just a stomach flu because as a principal I was around sick kids all the time. However, on May 3 I went to work but I just couldn’t function.
My secretary drove me home. All the way home I couldn’t stop vomiting. I decided I needed to go to urgent care. That night I went and after the doctor examined me, said I needed to immediately go to the emergency room. At New York University Lagone Health – Cobble Hill ER I was given a CAT scan and told I needed surgery as I had an abscess in my colon. I was diagnosed with diverticulitis that night. I was taken by ambulance to another NYU location. I was given antibiotics to stabilize me. Since I was stable the surgery was scheduled for that Monday.
Monday morning I had surgery and after I woke up several doctors came in my room and confirmed I had diverticulitis and that they had removed as much of the abscess as possible and that I would have a catheter for about a week to continue the draining process. While in the hospital I was given a lot of antibiotics and was on a liquid diet. However, nothing really stayed down. The doctors and nurses worked hard to get me stabilized enough for me to leave by that Thursday so I could travel to Albany to attend my graduation that Saturday. I was able to attend my graduation using a cane to walk up the stage because I was so weak. I returned to Brooklyn that Sunday and found myself back in the ER that Monday. I couldn’t keep anything down and continued to have a fever.
The going back and forth to the ER went on from May until mid-July. In that time I had about seven CAT scans. I was told I would need to have colon resection surgery ASAP. I was told that I needed to get a colonoscopy first but all the GI doctors at NYU had no availability until September. I called different GI doctors with Advantage Care and got an appointment quickly. When I saw the physician’s assistant for the GI for Advantage Care she was able to access my many CAT scans and was immediately concerned as to what she saw. She and the GI doctor told me I needed to meet with a colorectal surgeon immediately. In two days, they had set up an appointment for me. I met with the colorectal surgeon who looked at my CAT scans and examined me and stated my case was acute and I needed the colon resection surgery ASAP and needed to get cleared for surgery by my primary care physician. The clearance took some time because the surgeon was with Maimonides Medical Center, which was not covered immediately by my insurance.
Fast forward to July 23, I had my colon resection surgery. That night the surgeon told me that I had a large mass and that it was sent to pathology for testing. She stated she felt it may be cancer but would not know until the report came back. I was furious because several doctors from NYU stated I had diverticulitis and now I’m being told I never had that. While I was under the impression I had diverticulitis for months, I took all prescribed meds. The meds and being sick made me lose 40 lbs in two months. I lost a great deal of muscle mass.
After a week in the hospital at Maimonides, I was released and told I need to follow up with the surgeon in a week. On August 5, I was told I had stage II colon cancer and would need to go through chemotherapy. The doctor’s staff set up my initial appointment. A week later I met with the oncologist who extensively went over my condition, charts, and diagrams. I was told I would need another surgery to put a port in but that he doesn’t do it and would set up an appointment for me with another doctor. I met with the surgeon for the port. He was affiliated with Brooklyn Hospital Center which I wasn’t happy about as I had a good experience with Maimonides but I just wanted this over and my life back.
A week later I had the port put in. A week after that I started chemo. Chemotherapy has been hard. Going bi-monthy to get infusions at the oncologist office and then coming home to meet with a nurse to get additional chemo for 48 hours has been hard. In the beginning I was experiencing a lot of leg pain and my white blood cell count kept going down. The doctor changed me to every three weeks which has helped with some of the side effects. I had nine out of twelve treatments to date and still am not used to the side effects. I am often nauseous and have diarrhea a lot. The worse is the neuropathy in my feet. Recently my doctor changed my meds as the neuropathy was getting worse. To be honest my feet are numb pretty much every day, all day now. I’ve noticed some thinning of my hair and hair loss in one section of my head.
I’m usually an upbeat person but I have suffered from depression throughout this journey. I miss working and having a completely independent life. My family, friends, and staff have been amazing. They visit often and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t receive a gift or card. Even with all this support I still feel alone at times. To stay connected with my students, I started doing read alouds on YouTube: Reading with Dr. Liz. It has helped them see that I am doing well. I visited my school once but too many kids became upset seeing me in my mask. One of the best things have been some former students visit me often and help me with cleaning and other stuff.
At the beginning of this journey I was in a committed relationship but that ended as he couldn’t handle seeing me in pain. His ex-wife from his previous marriage died from breast cancer a week before my surgery. Not having him by my side has been hard to deal with but I’m trying to accept it.
I am looking forward to March 16th as that is my tentative date of my last chemotherapy. I am planning to take the time from then to July 1, my return date to work, to get myself back to normal. So getting my rear in gear has really meant that I need to make sure my family is knowledgeable about this disease. I have six siblings and I have spoken to all of them in person and via our sibling group chat about having a colonoscopy and getting genetic testing. I don’t want my family to go through this.RETURN TO FACES OF BLUE LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUNG ONSET COLORECTAL CANCER