The Rectal Surgery That Almost Wasn’t (Part 2)


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Theresa Maschke joined the Fight CRC team in May 2021 as a Content Writer, binding her love of writing and editing with her experience as her husband’s (a stage III survivor) caregiver. Theresa lives in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, with her husband, Joe; three kids, Elizabeth, Joey, and Caroline; and newest addition, her puppy named Buddy!

Missed Part 1? Read it here!

A New Normal

After Joe’s surgery where his rectum was removed, he was given a “temporary ostomy.” All hopes were for the ostomy to be temporary. The purpose of the ostomy was to allow Joe’s colorectal area (and digestive system) time to heal following his surgery. Part of the healing process means having an ostomy to help digest food. Joe was very anti-ostomy.

One of the nurses who came in to explain how to clean, care, and change Joe’s ostomy referred to it as “his friend.” Well, with friends like that --- No, really, the ostomy had come in peace despite Joe’s resistance. The ostomy was a means to an end. 

When Joe came home from the hospital, he wasn’t comfortable and didn’t feel well, and was overall just transitioning to an exceptionally large adjustment following life-altering surgery. He came home from the hospital on Monday. Tuesday night our son graduated eighth grade, so Joe was essentially given a pass not to go.

I think not only did he need time to physically heal from his surgery, he also needed to heal mentally because he had just been through an incredibly brutal previous nine months of fighting cancer.

The Waiting Game

We followed up with Joe’s surgeon when he told us Joe had no evidence of cancer. It was excellent news. His surgeon talked about waiting eight weeks to do the reversal and take out Joe’s ostomy. 

Joe was incensed. Originally we were given a “six to eight” week ballpark. Like all anxious people in a hurry to get things done, we both grabbed the “six” week part of that ballpark. Joe’s surgeon stressed that Joe’s body had been through a lot and that the radiation most likely weakened the tissues of the areas he needed to reattach. Think about how it would be to sew up lace. It was important for Joe’s insides to heal up so that when they were reconnected, the tissue didn’t tear, rip, or leak.

It was difficult for Joe to be patient.

In the meanwhile, he learned to appreciate his ostomy for what it was: a lifesaver and a bookmark that was just holding what needed to be healed.

On the drive home from Joe’s surgeon, the “check engine” light in my then-12-year-old “trusty” van turned on. We held our breath as we got over the bridge from Philadelphia back into New Jersey. 

A cancer-free Christmas 2019.

The van needed a new alternator, and Joe, ileostomy bag and all, worked that old alternator up and out of the van and a new one back into it. It was good to see that despite all he had been through “Joe who fixes everything” was still the same Joe. Even with an ostomy.

Goodbye, My "Friend"

In August an X-ray gave the excellent news that Joe was in good shape and could have his ileostomy reversed. Joe’s ostomy reversal was one year and six days after his initial diagnosis.

It was a long, life-changing road. Different people had asked me “did you ever think ‘why me?’ ‘why my family?’”

I never did. Why anyone? Why anyone’s family? 

A colorectal cancer diagnosis is beyond a worst nightmare. Treatment, radiation, and rectal surgery is horrible. Joe’s inside anatomy has been forever changed. 

Although the ostomy was more of a “frenemy,” it helped him by healing him. It has been nearly three years now since Joe’s diagnosis, and he is happy to be here. We are all happy he is still with us. Although time heals all wounds, Joe will carry the effects of his rectal cancer for the rest of his life. But he doesn’t let it hold him down or hold him back. 

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