I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer in April 2020, shortly after the country closed down for COVID-19. I had to fight to get my colonoscopy after symptoms increased to ones I could not ignore.
I first noticed blood in my stool while on a family vacation in August 2019. The weeks before were incredibly stressful and I chalked it up to stress, eating new things on vacation, drinking more than normal, etc. When we got home the blood disappeared so I thought everything was OK. In September a small amount of blood came back in my stool so I scheduled a visit with my general practitioner. He ran blood work (seemed fine) and suggested I meet with a gastroenterologist “just to rule out the scary things.”
I was hesitant to make that appointment because I knew it would involve a colonoscopy or something uncomfortable. So I ignored the referral and tried to believe that nothing was wrong.
In January 2020, I noticed blood in my stool again and changes in the color, frequency, etc. I finally made the appointment with the gastro, who saw me in late March 2020. COVID-19 was just starting but at that time I was allowed an in-person visit. Dr. King was very nice as she talked with me about my symptoms and recommended a colonoscopy. She told me that it was most likely internal hemorrhoids but we should rule out “anything else.” By this time I was more afraid of the blood in my stool than I was of a colonoscopy so we scheduled one for early April.
Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 and state-mandated restrictions on “non-urgent” procedures, they canceled my appointment and rescheduled me for June 15. I knew that waiting was a bad idea and my symptoms were increasing in severity to a point I could not ignore. I was able to obtain a video visit with Dr. King who agreed to classify my case as urgent and scheduled my colonoscopy for April 24 with her associate. I had to advocate and fight for this screening.
When I woke from the colonoscopy my mom was in the room which I thought was odd because she was supposed to be waiting in her car. Then the doctor told me that they found a mass and I could tell by the look in his eyes that this was serious and that he was afraid for me. I was immediately scheduled to see an oncologist, radiologist, and rectal surgeon and was sent upstairs for the first of many scans. When I asked the doctor how he could be so sure that it was cancer before they performed a biopsy he told me there was nothing else it could be. That was the scariest day of my life.
I was 44 when I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer – I have two teenage boys, a husband of 22 years, and I own a small business; I couldn’t believe that I had cancer and knew from that first moment that I would have a long road ahead of me.
I immediately started reading and learning everything I could about CRC and plugging into online resources (where I learned about the Colon Cancer Coalition). I changed my lifestyle to include meditation and prayer, switched to a plant-based diet, and reduced my stress and workload. I also got into a drug trial that combined standard FOLFOX chemo with immunotherapy and target drugs. After six months of treatment, my tumors had decreased by nearly 50% and I was cleared for a two part resection surgery. Unfortunately, after undergoing the left lobe resection, the surgeon noted that my liver had been compromised by chemo and the second resection was canceled. I am now awaiting the Y-90 treatment and then further radiation on my main rectal tumor.
I decided early on that my story is part of my journey and that I would share it openly with the hope of encouraging people to get colonoscopies. So I started a group on Facebook and invited everyone I knew to follow me. Every time I post, I end with a funny rhyme about getting a colonoscopy. The group has grown as friends of friends find their way to my story (many on similar journeys).
I have always been active and was training for a half marathon when diagnosed so when I learned about the Get Your Rear in Gear, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I set a goal of raising $1,700 because I was told at diagnosis that I had a 17% chance of surviving 5 years and my tumors had decreased 17% at my first scan. With the support of my group we actually raised $9,965! I had teammates who rode bikes, walked, or did yoga to raise money; my local yoga studio hosted a Zoom yoga class with donations going to our team, and I did a lot of promoting the event through Facebook; I also asked for donations instead of birthday gifts. I was truly overwhelmed by the donations and the wide variety of people who gave.
I feel incredibly supported by my people and the many ways they have shown me their love. I hope that raising money to increase colonoscopy screenings will help stifle the increasing number of people being diagnosed at alarmingly younger ages.