“You have cancer.” To me, when it’s regarding my own health, those words sit at the top of the list of “worst possible words to hear from your doctor.” Especially when you are a mother of three kids, just had a cesarean section four months ago, and are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Yuck.
In February 2020, almost a year after my second child was born, I went to the hospital in Estevan, Saskatchewan, for a routine colonoscopy. I had been having routine colonoscopies ever since the doctor found polyps while investigating some digestion issues a few years back.
When I was in for the colonoscopy, the doctor came in and told me that there were a few polyps in my colon, and one of them he could not remove because it was too invasive. He said that although it did not look cancerous, he took a biopsy to make sure. He immediately referred me to a gastroenterologist in Regina. Although the local doctor wanted this taken care of that day, the Regina hospital could not fit me in. I had to wait at least a month and that it would be taken care of at a later date. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic.
This caused quite an issue and, as you can imagine, all routine procedures or procedures that were not labeled “urgent” were put on a lengthy list. Meanwhile, the biopsy came back, and the polyp was not cancerous at this point – but it needed to be taken care of – otherwise it could possibly turn into cancer if left unattended. Enter the pregnancy of my third child.
We didn’t know this at the time, but I was about “five minutes” pregnant with my third child during my colonoscopy. By the time they were able to get me in, to remove this nasty looking polyp, I was about “honeydew melon” pregnant. For obvious reasons, however, it is not recommended to do scopes while pregnant. They said they would send me a letter a couple of months after the birth of my child, and that they would take care of it then. Enter cancer.
After a fairly regular pregnancy, I ended up with an emergency cesarean section in November 2020. I had a beautiful baby girl, the perfect addition to our little family. But at the back of my mind loomed the question “Has it turned into cancer now? When are they going to call me?”
In December, the waitlist at the Pasqua hospital was still lengthy, and by this time, somehow, I had been listed as only needing a “scope” and nothing else. After some self advocating and speaking with the gastroenterologist to explain my situation, and insisting that he look at the notes and photos that the doctor in Estevan had sent him, he realized that I had fallen through the cracks and that needed to be dealt with stat. In April 2021, I went up to the Pasqua Hospital for the moment of truth. I was nervous, and I was not happy to be going into the hospital alone (due to COVID). I nursed my almost 5-month-old baby in the parking lot, said goodbye to my husband and walked up to the gastro unit.
After I had my scope; I knew something was up. The specialist and some other staff walked in, and he said the words “I am sorry, but you have cancer.” How can this be? He didn’t even have the biopsy results back yet. He knew. And I knew. There it was. The dreaded “C” word. I had never felt so alone. I made the trek back down to the parking lot where my husband and baby waited for the news.
My husband hugged me, and we cried together, and while I breastfed my baby in the parking lot of the hospital –he said to me “the problem isn’t the problem, the problem is your attitude about the problem.” Now obviously, I wanted to punch him in the nose for saying that – but he was right. We were going to get through it, together.
My husband is my best friend. He is my rock, and my strength and I would not have been able to get through this without him. My strength to get through this came from the people I love. My parents, my sisters, my friends, my witty 12-year-old son, my cheeky three-year-old son and my sweet baby girl. But mostly my husband.
In the days to come, I was told that I would need a colon resection. My cancer was aggressive and invasive, and knowing how quickly it turned from a polyp into cancer, it needed to be dealt with within a month to ensure it did not spread to my liver or kidneys. It would be a minimally invasive surgery. “OK, I got this, no big deal.” After a CT Scan, and a MRI to ensure the cancer had not spread and being poked and prodded what seemed like a million times, I was medically ready for the surgery.
As a mom of a very young baby, the most difficult part was knowing that I could not “mom” her in the way that I did for my other kids when they were babies. Because of the surgery, I had to stop nursing her. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get up with her at night, I wouldn’t be able to lift her at all for six weeks; I would need a lot of support..
But finally, I was ready for surgery. On May 12, 2021, I had a right-hemicolectomy, and after a few days in the hospital, I was free to come home! The biopsy came back about a week after my surgery. I had stage one invasive adenocarcinoma – and the cancer had not spread to any of my lymph nodes. No need for chemotherapy or radiation. But because the cancer was close to stage II, with some very “aggressive behaviors,” and some other markers in my tumor, my oncologist suspected it was possible that I have Lynch Syndrome.
It is very important that I find out the results so that I can make informed decisions about my health in the future. If I am Lynch positive, it will be a whole new journey. I will have many follow up tests, with blood work every three months, CT Scans yearly and colonoscopies yearly (woohoo)!
Because this was such an emotional journey, I decided that it would be very therapeutic for me to create a YouTube channel with videos of the entire process. The appointments, the MRI, the surgery, how to prep for a colonoscopy – all of it. This was not only important because it was helping me cope, but I truly feel that colon cancer is the most under-talked about and sometimes preventable cancer there is. I want people who may be wondering about their own health to think “maybe I should go for a scope or send in that kit.” I wanted to normalize colon cancer – because right now, people don’t want to talk about it.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in men and the third leading cause of death from cancer in women in Canada. That is a sobering statistic. Especially since my cancer, if dealt with sooner, would not have turned into cancer at all. Prevention is key, and cancer doesn’t just affect the older generation. I am 20 + 17 years old, and since joining the “colon cancer world” on social media, I have met hundreds of people under the age of 40 with colon cancer.
After the release of my first video, there was an outpouring of support and comments. It was humbling and amazing. People from all over the world reached out, thanking me for sharing my story and shared their stories with me.. I became more thankful finding out that my cancer was a breeze compared to people with stage III or IV colon cancer! Surgery, radiation, more surgery – it is NOT an easy road.
People don’t want to talk about “colon” issues – they find it embarrassing or intimidating, but knowing now how deadly colon cancer is, I truly hope that my shared experience can help others. If I can help even one person from having to go down the “colon cancer” road, all of my time creating videos and sharing my experience will have been worth it.
This has truly been a “journey.” When you find out you have cancer, suddenly the other problems in your life seem trivial. From this experience I have learned a few things.
1). Take a second. Take a second to laugh with your toddler when they rudely burp at the kitchen table after blowing bubbles into their chocolate milk. When your spouse tries to make you dance in the kitchen when you are frantically cooking dinner and trying to get the kids out the door for hockey – take a second to dance with him. Take a second to hug your awkward pre-teen even when they don’t want to and tell your neighbor how much you appreciate them when they bring you pie, or your co-worker for always including you in the office lotto. Those are the things that matter. Take a second.
2). It is so important to advocate for yourself in terms of your own healthcare. If you think something is wrong, or if you feel that you have “slipped between the cracks”, don’t just let it go. Say something, take notes, talk about it. Advocate for yourself and for those you love.
3). Colonoscopy prep is crappy. Literally. But colon cancer is worse. My journey with cancer is over for now, but my journey of advocating for awareness has just begun.