Help increase screening and prevention for colon & rectal cancer.

Donate
952.378.1237

Faces of Blue: Donna Terrell

By March 30, 2021Faces of Blue

My daughter, Queah Habern (pronounced: Quaya) was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2005 at only 27 years old. She was a dynamic and beautiful young lady, a graduate of Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism. She took a detour from her journalist goals and became a Project Manager for a Contract Manufacturer and made Houston, Texas her home and loved to travel in both the United States and abroad, visiting cities in Australia and many parts of Europe. She was a lover of wine and good food and always enjoyed cooking.

She died in 2011. Those last two years of life she moved to Little Rock where I was her caregiver. While it broke my heart that she was unable to be in Houston, the city she loved, I thank God everyday that I had the opportunity to care for her during those last years. And though caregiving is not easy, it was an honor to care for her.

Her Words, My Thoughts

My daughter was a journalism major in college and spent a lot of her free time writing. Before she died she wanted to write a book about her experience with colon cancer but her health kept deteriorating to the point where she couldn’t.

If she were here today she would want people young and old to know that no one is immune from colon cancer and there are warning signs that should not be ignored. During her life she tried to make that message clear.

I am going to share some of her actual writings from my blog – I like to call them “her words”. This is where she talks about what led up to her first diagnosis, and the events that ensued. I don’t think she would mind if I sprinkle in some of “my thoughts”.

Queah:

My story begins with a misdiagnosis. I think that’s huge because most of us (young survivors that I know) were misdiagnosed. I was working at Nordstrom Department Store and had just moved to Houston. I had only been here about a year and half, maybe less. I went to the doctor because I had bloating and couldn’t get rid of it. I even tried colon cleansing teas. The doctor gave me a physical exam and I told her my symptoms. I was eating like a little bird and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so full. She said you might be experiencing stomach irritation, and she mentioned IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). She checked my rectum for blood and asked if I had seen any dark stools or blood and I said no. She decided to give me medication, so I picked up the prescription but it didn’t work – and I didn’t want to believe it was anything worse.

Donna:

At this point she was talking about her symptoms often and I began to worry. I remember having a fear it could be cancer. That scared me. As a mom I’ve always been over protective with Queah . Because of my profession in television news, I hear first hand about some of the horrible things that can happen to people – so I was always quick to go overboard with my fears. I often drove my daughter crazy with that. So this time I thought rather than be the crazy mom again I won’t say the “C” word but boy did I nag her about seeing another doctor. I often wonder if things would have turned out differently had I stuck to being that “crazy mom”.

Queah:

I had gone seven months and it had gotten so bad. For maybe two months I was always getting sick. I had started working at a new job and for those two months I was going back and forth to my general practitioner trying to figure out what was wrong. She was giving me scripts for this, that, and the other, but nothing worked.

Donna:

It’s funny because life was getting in the way of everything. It was a happy time. She had a new job, met a new guy and had fallen in love. She didn’t talk a lot with me about her stomach issues. Maybe occasionally she’d say it was bothering her. I honestly thought the “C” word was put to rest. It was much later that I found out she was missing a lot of work because she was sick often.

Queah:

Finally I was doubled over in pain and I had to call in sick to work again. I thought it would be okay if I could just lie down for a while, but I eventually drove myself to the emergency room and I could barely walk. I told them I needed to be admitted because the pain was so bad, and the nurse could tell so she rushed me on to a stretcher. The doctor hadn’t seen me yet but the pain was so bad that the nurse gave me morphine. I was so freaked out. I realized it was bad because of the type of drugs they were giving me. My boyfriend showed up and I saw the doctor about an hour later, but I waited seven hours while they were prepping me for surgery. Initially they told me they didn’t know what was wrong, but they would go in laparoscopically and clean out whatever was making me sick.

Donna: 

Out of nowhere, I get a call from Queah’s boyfriend telling me my daughter was in the hospital and about to have emergency, exploratory surgery. WHAT! Are you kidding me? Surgery? It was the middle of the work week. I dropped everything, bought a last minute ticket and hopped on a plane. I was in the air – my daughter was in the operating room.

Queah:

My mom rushed in and when I woke up in the hospital, the surgeon who saw me told me that when he went in he saw that my appendix was about to rupture. There was a six-inch tumor on the side of my appendix that caused the near rupture. He explained how he took out my appendix, the tumor and some of my colon.

Donna:

He said he bagged up the ruptured appendix, along with the huge tumor and portions of the large and small intestines. At this point I’m sitting on the edge of Queah’s hospital bed as the surgeon was explaining things and I asked point blank- is it cancer? Yes, I went there with the “C” word this time. Until that point I had never said the word cancer in front of her but it was now all I could think about. I feared she must have been devastated to hear her mom ask that question but I didn’t care, I had to ask. His response. “I doubt it – she’s too young”.

Queah:

He said, “Don’t worry, you haven’t been diagnosed with cancer or anything like that, but this is what we do for cancer patients to make sure we get everything (the stuff that shouldn’t be in there) out.”

Donna:

Turns out the surgeon was right. That large tumor was not cancer. We found that out a couple days later. Queah and I were in her hospital room. She was recovering well and so was I after this whirlwind ordeal. There’s nothing like the fear of knowing your daughter, your only child is having emergency surgery and you’re miles away. Finally we were both at peace knowing we had figured out the stomach problems and this journey was almost behind us. On this particular morning, we were laughing, talking about what she could and could not eat while her body healed and how I needed to get back home. That morning her doctor walked into the room and asked if he could speak with me alone. It was puzzling. Why would he want to speak with me and not her? She and I stared at each other as I followed him out of the room. Little did we know that day would be the start of a nearly seven year journey because he was about to deliver news that would change our lives forever.

Queah:

I found out I had cancer two days after I had surgery, and I just remember thinking this can’t be happening, it was surreal – you mean this is happening to me? Can this be happening? He took out a good part of the colon, I think six inches, and when they did a biopsy on the large tumor, it was not cancerous. But when they went in to biopsy the colon they found a tiny two centimeter tumor that was cancer. It was stage III and had gone through several layers of the colon wall, which was scary because he told me that if he hadn’t taken out that part of my colon – pretty much on a whim – I could still be walking around with cancer.

Donna:

The doctor broke the news to me before telling her which is why he wanted to speak to me alone. I was absolutely stunned. Nope, the large tumor was not cancer but the pathologist found that small tumor she speaks about in a portion of the large colon that was removed inadvertently during the surgery. The doctor told me he was having a hard time believing they found cancer because of Queah’s age. As he explained everything to me it was almost like he was talking about someone else’s child- not mine. But it became very real when he asked “do you want to tell her or should I?” First I irrationally thought why do we have to tell her and as much as I wanted him to do it – it was my job. She needed to hear the news from me.

For the rest of my life I will remember the look on her face as I told her she had cancer. Expressionless. No emotion. She said nothing, only stared downward at the bed as she laid there. As I held her it was all I could do to keep it together, but I needed to be strong. At the right moment I left her room, walked down the hall as far as I could possibly go, fell to the floor and cried.

Queah:

When I eventually found out what type of cancer it was, everyone was asking me about my family history, but nobody has ever had colon cancer in my family. I felt like it was a fluke that I ended up with cancer because I couldn’t trace it back anywhere. I believed in eating what you want in moderation so I would have a pork chop here, ice cream there, but I really ate healthy. I just couldn’t figure out why it was happening to me.

When they told me chemo would be mandatory because of it being stage III, I was all for it. I didn’t really know what chemotherapy was all about because I never knew anyone who was doing it. My grandmother had breast cancer but she only had radiation after her surgery. At that point I just wanted to survive, I just wanted to live. I started on the first Tuesday in March and I remember when I walked into the Houston Cancer Clinic I wanted to walk right back out. A few days prior to that, I met with the on-site Registered Nurse who is the main person who gives all the chemo education. I remember sitting across from her hearing about the chemo I was going to get and the side effects. The drug I was going to be on was so new that some of the side effects they didn’t know about yet. As she explained in detail going through this little booklet about surviving chemotherapy, I was in shock. I didn’t know how to digest all of the information. It took me a few days because I wasn’t prepared to hear what I was being told. I was blindsided and it was worse than I ever thought. So when I went in for my first round I was scared to death.

Donna:

I flew back to Houston to be with my daughter through this ordeal. Not only was it scary for us but the unknowns were hard to swallow. They say knowledge is power but my goodness at this point I didn’t want to hear any of this. But I sat there as my daughter stayed mostly silent and I tried to ask questions for her. There was little I could say to lighten the blow but as a mom I felt my job was to try to find that silver lining. Looking back now, that silver lining was crystal clear all along. My daughter was alive.

 

Sadly, Queah died after her second bout with colon cancer in 2011. If you would like to read part 2 of “Her Words My Thoughts”, you can head to Donna’s blog at http://donnaterrell.tv/?s=her+words+my+thoughts

 

Return to Faces of Blue  Colorectal Cancer Screening

 

Leave a Reply