For years Kelly struggled with symptoms but thought it was due to either hormones, diet, or the stress of being a military wife and mom of two kids. About four to five years before her diagnosis, she saw a doctor regarding her symptoms. They diagnosed her at the time with IBS even after taking a stool sample.
The symptoms did not exist prior to having her kids. “I was having some vaginal bleeding not related to my period, so I went to a gynecologist and ended up having a partial hysterectomy. They said that possibly my uterus had gone backwards and could be putting pressure on my colon which might lead to some of the issues.” After the hysterectomy, Kelly eventually went in for a colonoscopy. “I could not go to the bathroom at all without like three laxatives and I could feel it couldn’t get it out. It felt like it was stuck in there.”
Kelly was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. “Never in a million years did I think it was cancer.” While she and her family were stationed down in Florida, she had a friend who was diagnosed with rectal cancer. When talking to the friend and explaining her symptoms, Kelly never made the connection that it could be cancer.
Being diagnosed so young, Kelly had genetic testing done, which turned out to be negative. “They said I just had really bad luck. That it was a polyp that went crazy, which makes me angrier that five years ago if she would have just sent me to a GI doctor this would have probably never happened. From what I’ve read, stool samples can come back with false negative all the time.”
After surgery, 25 rounds of radiation, lower abdominal resection with ileostomy, six months of chemo, and then a reversal of the ileostomy, scans two years after her diagnosis showed that Kelly was cancer free. The struggles didn’t end there. The true battle started afterwards. “It becomes a battle of the mind because you worry and are constantly thinking about it coming back.”
Kelly has good and bad days, and she’s finding it easier to move on. “Time has passed, and you just deal with it better and become thankful for all the days that are good because there are definitely more good days than bad. I remember thinking ‘I’ll never feel normal again’ and now I’m normal and if I have an accident it’s a lot easier to kind of laugh it off and say ‘oh well, it happens.’”
As of September 2019, her scans have been clear. She has another scan coming up in April 2020 and will have yearly scans afterwards if they stay clear. Her husband has since retired from the US Coast Guard, but they are still living in Florida. Kelly continues to share her story, especially her experience being misdiagnosed. One of her neighbors in Florida had approached her and asked what her symptoms were at the time. “I told him any change in bowel function, and you need to see a GI doctor. Do not let them tell you it’s IBS.” A polyp was discovered after his colonoscopy.
Her cousin had also reached out to her and inquired about her symptoms after having a lot of trouble and constipation. “I told her all these things to say. Tell them my history, tell them your dad had polyps and do not take no for an answer. Get a colonoscopy, and if he won’t do it, we will find someone else who will. Luckily the GI didn’t give her any trouble and he put her in for a colonoscopy the next week and I believe she had a polyp or two and some hemorrhoids.”
“I tell my story. That’s a generic band aid. There is a reason to go find out. Don’t give up. Life does get better. I feel so much better and I never would have thought that life would almost be normal again.”