Humor, Cancer, and Surviving it All
When I received my cancer diagnosis I thought I was planning for my death. Now I’m a 5-year survivor. Here’s my story.
“My kids are too young.”
“It’s not fair to them.”
Just some of my initial thoughts.
I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in early July, a few weeks shy of my 42nd birthday. I was getting my life together after divorce. And I had plans.
I purchased a townhome after four years of apartment living.
I completed all academic requirements to begin working on my Ed.D. dissertation and passing the elusive comprehensive exam for grad school.
I was in a great relationship.
I loved my work as a technology manager at a charter school.
Everything was FINALLY going my way.
As an adoptee, I don’t know my family history, so I am keen on routine checkups.
Thankfully, I have a great 10-year relationship with my family doctor who is an advocate of “listening to what my body was telling me.” She noticed enough red flags during my annual checkup to suggest a colonoscopy.
Ewww, a colonoscopy? I waited one month from when I received the referral to make the appointment. I thought it was bad enough to talk about poop, but now to have a camera up my poop chute*…what a crazy concept.
It is true when they tell you the prep is the worst part and I made friends with the porcelain gods that night.
But no amount of prep can ever prepare you for what I heard the next day. No amount of twilight drugs during the colonoscopy would ever mute the words, “I think that’s cancer.”
Fortunately, the twilight drug did prevent me from jumping off the gurney. After the procedure was over, my doctor ever-so-kindly shared his discovery.
The next two weeks were a blur.
In those weeks, I was introduced to my port-a-cath whom I affectionately named “Portia Fortenport.” I was told we were a good fit but she got under my skin. She would, however, act as my gateway to the next phase of my life…that of a cancer survivor.
Stage IV colon cancer with liver metastasis and additional tumors on my remaining ovary and lymph nodes.
The next nine months were like a pregnancy with three distinct trimesters – six rounds of chemo, abdominal surgery, six rounds of chemo.
I would wear an infusion pump after my “spa days” in the oncology ward. I experienced all the glamorous side effects – increasing food and temperature sensitives, neuropathy, peeling hands and feet, and a very stylish bald head.
Surgery removed my sigmoid colon, adjacent lymph nodes, two sections of my liver, and my remaining ovary.
Laughter and humor were the only ways I could get through this. My family – including my children, friends, and co-workers – all laughed and cried with me. Anytime we could make an unfortunate episode into a laughable matter, we did.
But when I couldn’t laugh, I cried. I allowed myself the space to recognize the unfortunate tragedy that colon cancer is.
Saying goodbye to Portia Fortenport 16 months after we were introduced was a celebration. She was well-used and close to my heart. Although she was picked on and bruised easily, she always bounced back to see another day. She taught me a lot.
I have been living cancer-free now for five years. I still get nervous when I go in for blood work and scans, but I don’t let this be a daily concern. I live to pay it forward, volunteer, and pay back through action.
I don’t take my survivorship for granted.
It took me a few weeks to get my head out of the “I’m gonna die” space. I decided if I couldn’t find the strength to live for myself, I would find that strength for my children.
I never wanted my kids to see that cancer could win, but in the event that my body couldn’t fight, I made sure my legacy was in place and my children would be taken care of.
If you are recently diagnosed or know someone who has, survivor rates have improved because of the concerted efforts around early detection, research, and fundraising.
Laughter, humor, and love are priceless in the well-being of anyone, but especially of those who are diagnosed with cancer. I am a direct recipient of countless hours of effective chemotherapy treatments, skillful surgeons, and gut-busting laughter.
Here’s my advice: Your communities want to help you. Let them help you so you can focus on recovery.
*Courtesy of Tom Hanks in Punchline