Marra Rodriguez, Stage IIIB Patient/Survivor
This story began about two years before I was diagnosed. I had symptoms but did not worry too much about them. My stool had thinned out, but I thought it was my pregnancy weight squashing my intestines. I started to lose weight. I was intentionally and consciously dieting and I thought that the weight loss was due to my dieting efforts.
It was not long before I started seeing blood as I wiped. A smear or dot here and there, but there were no painful symptoms. The blood would show up every couple of months and then became more frequent. I thought the root cause was hemorrhoids so I ignored it. But then the blood became weekly and the quantity of blood as I wiped increased.
It was Aug. 2013 when I met with the GI and explained my symptoms. The GI thought I suffered from hemorrhoids also and since I had no family history and was only 39 years old. I was scheduled for a colonoscopy in December. I went home and thought to myself, against my better judgment, that if the GI wasn’t worried it was probably not a big deal.
But just a month later, the bleeding went from weekly to daily. One Tuesday morning, the amount of blood in the toilet was alarming. I brought my husband into the bathroom so he could see what had happened. He immediately rushed to contact the GI for the first cancellation available. I became paralyzed with fear. I got my first colonoscopy two days later, on Sep. 19, 2013.
Upon waking up, the GI informed me that I had a very large mass in my lower rectum which appeared to be cancerous. She also removed a large polyp from the sigmoid region of my colon, and ordered pathology tests.
I remained positive, but it was definitely a sleepless weekend.
Sept. 23, 2013 is the day that officially changed my life’s trajectory forever. It is also, in Catholic faith, the feast of St. Padre Pio, which has a special meaning for me. I received the call between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. from my GI. It was a moderately-differentiated rectal adenocarcinoma possibly stage II, III, or IV, pending a CT scan and ultrasound.
I couldn’t catch my breath, and all I could think about were my children, and what would happen to them if something happened to me. I grew up in a world where cancer meant a death sentence, and colorectal cancer to me meant I had six months to live. I did not know any survivors.
There were obviously huge amounts of grief, desolation and denial.
Receiving this diagnosis over the phone and at my place of work opened the door to the realization of the intimacy, love and friendship of my work family. Coworkers of all faiths instantly embraced me and lifted me up with love. For that love, support and prayers from all my coworkers, their respective families and faith communities, I will be forever grateful.
I had a very low lying tumor, and no metastasis, but I did have three small lymph nodes involved. There was a debate amongst my doctors on the medical management of my case; some gray area in the outcomes. In the end, I went with a reversible ostomy and neoadjuvant chemoradiation.
My journey of faith truly prepared me for this tragic diagnosis. Through prayer, in particular one by St. Ignatius of Loyola, filled me up with enough strength to prepare myself and my family for the long journey ahead.
I surrendered to God’s will, but that doesn’t mean I gave up. On the contrary, it is in the fountain of love, that unknown abyss, that faith, that gave me the strength, peace, conviction, light and joy to advocate and navigate.
Throughout this experience, I made it my mantra to find joy in the journey. Yes, this journey is full of tears but the Lord’s joyful voice spoke volumes. I am an engineer, scientist, and researcher by study, and a faith-filled soul by heart. I took both of my worlds and welded them together. So when asked to share my story I cannot separate my physical story from the spiritual one, because they are largely intertwined.
I have no doubt that I was called to witness to this powerful faith journey through my cancer experience.
In the end this is a story about a humble, introverted soul, and my passionate indifferent surrendering in faith to God’s will. It was a lesson in appreciation of all souls especially the greatness of caregivers. This was and continues to be a joyful journey of faith, hope, and love. A love experienced at all human levels – through a diversity of the many individuals of all faiths, colors and races that walk by my side and lift me and my family.
At this time, I show No Evidence of Disease (NED). I have joined this CRC family, with its many colors, depths, and stories. I learn from each story every day. I am advocating with Fight CRC to bring change and cures. My passion has always been research and science and I hope that my talents in this area can serve this community well. I am also part Hispanic, so I hope that through my advocacy and awareness work I can reach the Spanish-speaking communities to save lives.
WHAT ONE MILLION STRONG MEANS TO MARRA
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” – St. Therese de Lisieux.
It is difficult to walk this journey without support; support is monumental. We are a strong community of brothers and sisters on similar journeys, unifying our voices in support of each other and those who have been affected by this disease. One Million Strong means love in quality and quantity. It means sharing each of our stories to offer hope to another and educate the world and each other, since not all CRC experiences are equal. It means one million little ways to love.
I offer my experience, my family’s experience, my prayers and my soul in support. This movement has the potential to give researchers a million perspectives and opportunities to find a cure.
I offer my voice to let our government know that you are never too young to be screened for colorectal cancer. Also that everyone has a right to receive a colonoscopy regardless of age. Gut health is important in preventing diseases and cancer. Early screenings save lives and increases quality of life outcomes. I am here for the research. I am here to prevent this disease from affecting families.
Always listen to your soul. It speaks volumes. Advocate for yourself and never take no for an answer. When making a medical decision take time to discern your options. Make lists of pros and cons. Pray about your decision and follow the path that brings you consolation and peace. Desolation is not from God. Options can be confusing, but FightCRC is doing their part to help you navigate through it all.
If you are not sure about something, ask for clarification. Do not be afraid – do not despair or worry and never lose hope. Ask for and accept help, make phone calls, research, e-mail, be determined and persistent, state your case, seek answers and find solutions, read, gather a support group, pray and journal. Find joy in the journey and celebrate all your milestones along the way.
Be aware of God’s presence and find Him in all things and aspects of your life. Listen out for His voice for it can be loud or it can be a whisper. Be grateful. Be a testament of love and compassion. Find your opportunity to love others as a result of your journey. Never forget we are simply writing the prologue of our book. The glorious chapters are yet to be written.
To God be the Glory.
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