Patient / Survivor
My story begins in the summer of 2014. My oldest son had just graduated high school and the following week I came down with what I thought was a stomach virus. I spent an entire weekend in bed with a heating pad over my abdomen. I had severe cramping that reminded me of labor pain.
Over the next few weeks, I continued experiencing bouts of diarrhea and cramping. I googled my symptoms and recognized that I did have some symptoms of colon cancer.
After a month, I referred myself to a gastroenterologist. At that appointment, the gastro reassured me that I probably had Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I questioned him about colon cancer. He said the only way to know would be to do a colonoscopy and added that I was too young for colon cancer.
I have re-lived that moment over and over, wishing I had insisted on a colonoscopy that day.
The gastro proceeded to order a stool test which confirmed that I had an intestinal parasite. After a round of antibiotics, I did feel a little better. But a few weeks later, the symptoms started all over again. We tried a few medications and I started a probiotic.
Fast forward to November, my family had just returned from a vacation to see family in Texas. I started experiencing constipation which I thought it was probably from being away from home. After 10 days of not being able to go to the bathroom, I called the gastroenterologist’s office and requested a colonoscopy. At first, they tried to put me off until after the holidays. I persisted and was on the schedule for the 2nd week in December.
Since they worked me into the schedule, I was one of the last scopes of the day. I remember waking up hearing talk of a CT scan, between the doctor and nurse. I knew that was not a good sign. My sigmoid colon had an obstruction. The doctor was not able to complete the procedure and recommended that I see a a surgeon as a soon as possible.
On New Years Eve of 2014, I had my colon resection. The surgery went well. I did not need a colostomy. It took a few days for the pathology to come back.
When the surgeon finally came in my room to tell me, she started with, “I have good news and bad news…”
The good news was that it was not in any of the lymph nodes. The bad news was that she was not able to get a clear margin. She also said that my tumor fell apart in her hands and that I was really lucky that my bowel had not ruptured.
Due to the size of my tumor and the positive margin, I was staged IIIC. I met with an oncologist who recommended that I get a 2nd opinion. (And I was grateful that he recommended it.)
We travelled to MD Anderson in Houston in February. They confirmed everything and came up with a treatment plan that my oncologist at home would follow: 12 rounds of FOLFOX followed by 6 weeks of radiation.
After my appointment at MD Anderson, it finally sunk in that I had cancer. I guess I had hoped that I would find out I was misdiagnosed. Once they reconfirmed what I had already been told, my world crashed. When we returned home, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I began seeing a behavioral oncologist- a therapist… this was the best thing I ever did!
Chemotherapy began in March. Everything went as well as could be expected. I did have some nausea, but after a few rounds, they were able to get that under control. Chemo was always on Wednesday. I would wear one chemo home for forty eight hours and get unhooked by the home health nurse on Friday. By Sunday, I would crash and sleep most of the day. By the following Wednesday, I would start feeling like my old self for a few days.
I finished my twelfth round of chemo in July. We took a trip to the beach to celebrate. I was so wiped out, I spent most of the time in a comfy chair by the window looking out at the beach and I also slept a lot.
When we returned home in August, I started radiation which was every day Monday thru Friday. It was a forty minute drive each way. I would work in the mornings and drive to radiation after lunch. I am lucky to have an employer that was very understanding.
I tolerated radiation much better than FOLFOX. I took oral chemo with the radiation- which had caused my mouth and throat to feel scalded. Eating was difficult and my taste buds were virtually gone. I lost a total of 35 pounds from the start of my chemotherapy to the end of radiation.
I completed radiation in October- just in time to see my daughter compete in the High School State Championship Golf tournament.
I took my last round of radiation, rang the bell and drove to the tournament.
The chemo left me with neuropathy in my feet- which I still have. My scans have remained clear or N.E.D. At my last oncology appointment in October 2017, I was released to one year. I am not sure how I feel about that. Although scans cause me great anxiety, there’s also reassurance there that everything remains okay.
The whole experience changed me. I am a better person. I am stronger than I ever realized. And I am thankful for every day I am still here.
When I look back on that year of treatment, it seems like a bad dream. Just hang on and get through it day by day, It’s a tough battle. In the end, you will be a stronger person after getting through it.