Note from the Colon Cancer Coalition:
After more than 20 months bravely confronting stage IV colon cancer, Hari Gopalarathnam passed away in February 2023. He was 46 years old. With the blessing of family we are sharing the story of his CRC journey that he wrote before his death. We are deeply moved by Hari’s dedication to his community, and his devotion to raising awareness for colorectal cancer. We were honored to have him a part of a photo session before he passed away. This photo is how we will remember him. All Smiles. We’re grateful for his wife, Lalitha, and her courageous decision to share his journey, and continue his mission to raise awareness for colorectal cancer. In 2023, in her husband’s memory, Lalitha was once again one of the top fundraisers for Get Your Rear in Gear – Twin Cities.
I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with liver metastases in late April of 2022, a few weeks shy of my 45th birthday. What started as a normal day in mid-April turned into something unexpected (to put it mildly). It had been a busy several weeks of long hours and travel at work and I had disregarded weight loss I had experienced, putting it down to stress and burnout. We were at a showing as part of our house hunting efforts and on an impulse, I stood on the bathroom scale. To my dismay/surprise the scale showed 125 lbs, a number I had not weighed since my late teens. I scheduled a visit with my primary leading to bloodwork, a CT scan, and a colonoscopy.
May was a whirlwind of tests and blur in terms of diagnoses:
- With the initial visit and discussion with my oncologist to understand prognosis, treatment plan etc.
- Power port surgery/placement.
- Colostomy. An unexpected surgery but one strongly recommended by the oncologist. Didn’t even know what a colostomy was before.
- Getting used to the ostomy bag (named Bagwati), with all the myriad and frustrating experiences of bag opening, pancaking, and even day-to-day cleaning.
- Bacterial infection, port removal, new port placement.
In between all of this; the ever-present question…WHY ME? If there was a risk percentage associated, I should have been a negative number. Not even 45, vegetarian, relatively clean eating habits, no family history of any type of cancer, let alone colon cancer… WHY ME?
On this journey, I have been through numerous rounds of chemo, dealing with its side effects, mood swings etc. I also put all my eggs in a phase 1/phase 2 immunotherapy clinical trial only to not have it work out and then go back to chemo at a worse point than we had started off 14 months prior.
Through all of this, my wife has been my rock. I don’t think I would have endured this part of the journey without her. While this challenge has demanded everything of me, I also realized I had friends and allies – often in unexpected places. I am ever thankful to my family, my friends, and my managers at my workplace for all the support they have provided. They have been extremely supportive to my efforts and fight and continue to be a blessing that I hold dear.
During my journey and fight, I realized that it’s not always easy to talk about poop. It is a taboo subject and I see this more in our Indian community. We don’t even want to talk much about cancer, let alone colon (poop) cancer. I want to bring awareness in general to talk about this need for screening. If what I am going through can be avoided by another person through efforts in education, screening, and early diagnosis, I will be the happiest person.
I don’t know what the future holds for me. But I know for sure I am not giving up without a fight.
“IF THERE IS NO STRUGGLE, THERE IS NO PROGRESS”